Memo to: People We Support, Families, Guardians and Skills Society Employees
Re: Prevention and Preparedness Regarding the Novel-CoronaVirus (COVID-19)
From: Executive Director and Senior Leadership of Skills Society
April 17th, 2020 Update
The leadership of Skills Society continues to work day and night on preparedness measures, advocacy, and creative collaborations in the sector that are unprecedented as we navigate the spread of COVID-19.
We continue to follow directions and information provided by the provincial and federal government as well as health authorities. As you know the situation with COVID-19 is constantly evolving and we are working diligently to be as responsive to new information as possible and do everything in our power to protect the citizens with disabilities we serve, our employees and community.
To date, due to our own measures, as well as the measures set out by the chief medical officer of health (CMOH), none of the people we support, or staff, have tested positive for COVID-19.
Message from Executive Director, Ben Weinlick
This week was a bit of a roller coaster for Skills Society around securing PPE, but ended with some heartwarming and hopeful results. Securing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a struggle around the world with COVID-19. We have been scouring the earth for any PPE we can get and advocating for many weeks to government to provide consistent supply chains of PPE to help us protect the vulnerable citizens we serve and our employees. There is a lot going on in Alberta and we imagine it is challenging, given the COVID-19 crisis, for different ministries like Health and CSS (Our PDD ministry) to work together to meet the unique needs of stakeholders. We are grateful that there are stellar civil servants in multiple ministries working hard to remove barriers and get the support required out to people.
There are unique challenges that people with disabilities face during this pandemic that other citizens do not face. For example, most people we support, cannot simply self-isolate on their own when required. Many people we serve struggle to understand why self-isolation for 14 days is required and so unique support, to help ensure their safety, is required. In addition, many people we serve require close personal care support, in which case, specific PPE is required to support people showing symptoms. These are just some of the many complex challenges we need Health and our ministry to be aware of and to help us create unique support strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has also been challenging to help Health understand the needs of the disability sector. Normally, our sector does not require PPE, however, in these circumstances, we require PPE for our frontline staff just the same as frontline healthcare workers do. There have been misunderstandings about this that have led to a delay in disability service organizations receiving the PPE they need from Health. Over the past several weeks we have been deeply involved in advocating to get our frontline staff the PPE required.
Yesterday, Thursday April 17th, 2020, three promising developments emerged.
- The Minister of Municipal Affairs, Honourable Kaycee Madu, personally delivered a supply of PPE to us. We are very grateful for this happening quickly and we also continue to advocate that we need continuous supply chains of PPE. We are a large organization and require large quantities of PPE to safely serve. Big thank you to the Minister from all of us!
- Our funder (PDD), sent us an order form requesting the number for surgical masks for continuous masking of staff in order to reduce potential spread of COVID-19. We expect this order to come in this weekend or early next week. Thank you so much! We will be dependent on government supply of these masks to continue in the weeks and possibly months to come with continuous masking.
- We had almost run out of procedure gowns yesterday which are part of the PPE requirements when a staff supports personal care of a person with symptoms of COVID-19. We sent out an emergency call to fellow service providers and many organizations offered to help us out. It was very heartwarming and we are so grateful. Shout out below to those who supported us from our disability services sector. We also need health and government to understand that these extra gowns that came in will support us into next week only and it is not sustainable, especially as COVID-19 spreads, to expect that community or service providers will help each other out with PPE when required. This was only a temporary fix.
As I’ve said before the coming weeks and months are going to be tough for everyone. But we’re strong as a Skills Society family. When times are tough, I reflect on purpose and look how and where I can help others. For me purpose is about looking out for those who might not be able to look out for themselves. I don’t like seeing others left out or left behind. I work to ensure people have every possibility for good lives, safety and freedom to be who they want to be in the world. I try to remember this when things get tough and this enables me to see ways I can support and help where possible. I admit remembering purpose isn’t always helpful and perfect as sometimes there will simply be some tough feelings and that’s ok. That’s human and we can’t be too tough on ourselves. What’s clear is that humans are more resilient than we often give ourselves credit for. And we are always better when we help and support each other. We also have a big strength as humans when we work together with empathy, creativity and collaboration to figure out solutions to tough challenges. This is happening at multiple levels around COVID-19 right now. Neighbours and acquaintances who might not have really known each other before are helping each other out more. Teams within our organization are helping each other. Other disability services organizations are helping each other. Ministries are striving to work together in coordinated efforts like never before. Scientists around the world are sharing data and learning in unprecedented ways to come up with science based treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. It brings hope and gratitude.
Actions Being Taken by Skills Society
Below is an overview of measures we have taken this week at Skills Society. For an overview of preventative measures previously implemented please see our previous memos linked at the bottom of this message.
New Actions This Week
- This week we implemented, recommended by CMOH, more aggressive preventative measures. See our April 13th memo for detials- https://www.skillssociety.ca/news/april-13th-2020-covid-19-update/
- Starting next week, and based on continued supply from government, we are implementing continuous masking. Staff and supports will work to be extra friendly while wearing masks to humanize this more medical look when supporting people. Again this is in keeping with CMOH recommendations for continuous masking.
- We have been working with staff to figure out ways to assign staff only to one home or support environment while balancing and maintaining safety and support requirements. This is in keeping with CMOH recommendations and reduces exposure. This is very challenging to implement and I really want to thank team leaders, managers, senior leaders and guardians for their patience and support to put this safeguard in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- CommuniTEA Infusion virtual community connecting strategy and planning underway. Very soon we will be rolling out virtual CommuniTEA Infusion community building, to support people to stay connected in fun virtual ways. We have a coordinator of this already working on the details and soon we will also have people we support be hosts and community builders in virtual ways. More details coming in the next few weeks.
Actions On the Horizon
- MANDT Mental health webinars to strategize and support employees
- Innovative project underway to support connection of people we support through new technologies. This is a few weeks away, but we’re exploring how we might create virtual community building experiences similar to our CommuniTEA Infusion project to help connect people we serve with their friends and family and to educate around staying safe.
- Upcoming training for Managers and Team Leaders on mental health first aid and supporting teams in these times
Continued Sincere Gratitude to our Employees
We continue to advocate and educate others – reminding and informing them that people with developmental disabilities face challenges that are unique and need to be considered and not forgotten during this pandemic. For example, there needs to be plain language explanations of COVID-19 like we’ve shared here – https://www.skillssociety.ca/covid-19-resources/.
We also need to not forget that people with developmental disabilities are often some of the most isolated citizens in our communities. Our staff are keenly aware of this and work hard to create supportive, connected environments for people they serve.
We continue to share our sincere gratitude to all our front line supports for supporting people to be safe, and for being pillars of strength, care and compassion to people we serve in navigating these unprecedented times. We also continue to hope that guardians, families, and employees continue to express gratitude in small ways to our people on the front lines keeping people safe and connected.
For More Information
- If you are a family or guardian and require additional information please be in touch with the manager associated with your loved one’s support.
- If you are a Skills Employee and require additional information you can be in touch with pandemic coordinators, Linda or Ed at 780-496-9686.
- Check out our new COVID-19 Resources section on our website: https://www.skillssociety.ca/covid-19-resources/.
Previous Public Memos
Public Memos are available on our website under the ‘news’ tab.
We appreciate your patience and support as we continue to navigate these uncertain and unprecedented times. Please know that we are working our hardest to keep the people we serve and our staff as safe as possible.
Ben Weinlick, Executive Director and the Senior Leadership Team
Note- What’s happening with COVID-19 is changing rapidly. We become aware of new information from the provincial and federal governments and health authorities on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. We are working hard to be responsive to this new information as it becomes available. As such, information in this memo may change and quickly become outdated. We are doing our best to communicate new information to the people we support, families, guardians, and staff in a timely manner.