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Virtual Home and Community Based Services: A Response to COVID-19

It seems an understatement to say that Community Based Services (CBS) are incredibly important programs available to individuals within the ID population. These services provide a way for those that may not have the same opportunities as others, to engage in their local communities and participate as active members of society.  They provide outlets for those served to gather in groups, explore creative avenues, and expand upon everyday life skills; all the while, building social connections and broadening independence.

With the onset of a sudden world-wide pandemic and the creation of a new household word, “social distancing”, Community Based Services were undeniably hit hard.  In-Home and Community Habilitation, Companion Services, Community Participation Supports, and Employment Services are among those programs that were impacted the most.  It became evident that the world of social services was yet again called upon to get creative and find a way to still engage our CBS individuals, while maintaining the health and safety of all those involved.  No small task to say the least, considering “community based” is in the name, and the community was essentially shut down. 

And yet, Arc Human Services found one way to accomplish this seemingly impossible task, with the help of the Office of Developmental Programs and Technology.  Virtual visitation/communication was one solution that allowed for safe engagement between individuals and staff during the height of COVID-19.  Individuals could see and talk directly to their support staff using Google hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or any other video conferencing software. Arc Human Services lent iPads to those individuals that wanted to participate, but did not possess an iPad of their own. 

One of Arc Human Service’s Independent Support Staff, Sharry, works for the In-Home team at Arc as a companion staff to Maria.  Sharry and Maria are very close and have been working together for over 15 years.  Maria’s relationship with Sharry is one of the most valued and important connections in her life and the same is true for Sharry.  They utilized virtual visitation almost every day when it was not safe to be together in person.  Sharry said that Maria would have to go into her room to have privacy during their visits.  It was very important for Maria to have her own time and space and maintain her independence during her conversations with Sharry.  This was one way they worked toward Maria’s goal of increasing her independence during their virtual visits.  The technology was very user friendly and something Maria was able to use without assistance, which also provided a way for Maria to maintain her independence goal.  Maria was able to virtually see Sharry and her family, and knew that Sharry was safe during the pandemic.  This provided a sense of relief and normalcy for Maria during an uncertain time.  According to Sharry, Maria benefited greatly from this new way of Companion service delivery.

Travis also receives In-Home and Community Habilitation support from his In-Home staff, Lori.  Travis is familiar with his own iPad and was excited about the idea of being able to still interact with Lori in some way during the pandemic.  Travis’s mother helped him set up his own email account so that he could use Google Hangouts to participate in virtual visitations with Lori.  Travis is limited in his mobility which makes it difficult to leave his home under normal circumstances.  With the added stress and limitations put in place because of Covid-19 and having to quarantine, Travis was even more isolated from the community and others outside of his immediate family.  Lori was able to talk with Travis about eating healthy and using the microwave for heating up his meals.  Healthy eating and practicing using small appliances are some of Travis’s habilitation goals.  Lori and Travis discussed the importance of following CDC guidelines such as hand washing and wearing a mask when out in public.  This was a way that Lori encouraged Travis to work on his goal of remaining safe and healthy.  Travis benefited immensely from his virtual communications with Lori and stated that he really enjoyed using his iPad to see her and talk with her.

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