There’s been a lot of talk in the news about different vulnerable populations that are at risk because of COVID-19, the new coronavirus outbreak. Koinonia, a local nonprofit that serves more than 600 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), wants people to remember that those with IDD are especially at risk during this time. Not only are many individuals who have IDD “medically fragile,” concern also lies in the potential shortage of front-line workers to provide care and support during the outbreak.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone with a brain injury, intellectual disability or moderate to severe developmental delay may be more susceptible to suffer a severe illness from COVID-19.
How is Koinonia keeping people safe?
“We took quick action to close our day programs and to restrict access at all Koinonia sites,” says Diane Beastrom, president and CEO of Koinonia. “At each entry point, employees and any essential visitors (necessary contractors and required public health officials) are required to complete a COVID-19 risk assessment form and temperature reading. We are doing everything possible to protect our individuals and staff from exposure.”
With the IDD workforce already in crisis, staffing shortages will be significantly exacerbated as Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) fall sick or must tend to family. Koinonia is actively preparing for a possible front-line staff shortage.
“Koinonia is working daily on various strategies to fill staffing vacancies to alleviate some of the strain on our DSPs, and we’ve redeployed our day program staff to work at our residential locations,” says Beastrom. “We are also working to recruit temporary workers from the general public, as well as from other day service providers that are closing and have staff who may wish to work.”
Beastrom made it clear that the temporary workers are a backup and resource to Koinonia’s experienced Direct Support staff. They will not be working shifts on their own. “We are seeking to provide backup and reinforcement,” says Beastrom.
The company plans on hiring more than 100 temporary workers in the coming weeks at a rate of $14 per hour. These are entry-level health care positions; no previous experience is required, and paid training will be provided. To apply and learn more, visit koinoniahomes.org/covid-19-alert.
The COVID-19 crisis is exposing key vulnerabilities in the IDD support system, as people are asked to stay home and community centers and day programs close to limit the spread of COVID-19. Many providers of those programs face uncertain futures. Will there be places for people with IDD to go after the dust settles from the pandemic? According to Beastrom, Koinonia is taking steps to ensure that it can provide essential services now and in the future.
“Our task force meets daily to address the issues in front of us,” Beastrom explains. “Our dedicated associates are considered essential workers and are committed to fulfilling their responsibilities to care for the people we serve, often at great personal sacrifice, because it is the Koinonia way.”
The nonprofit has established a special Frontline Caregiver Support Fund to meet the needs of its direct care workforce as they arise. It also has setup an Amazon wish list that contains supplies and activity items needed during the crisis. To learn more, visit koinoniahomes.org/donate-koinonia.
“In my 33 years at Koinonia, the one consistent fact I have always been able to rely on is that when situations are the most difficult, DSPs, front-line staff and those who support them step up and come through so that the people who count on us are cared for, healthy and safe,” says Beastrom. “I am so proud of everyone who works at Koinonia.”