April 9th, 2020 COVID-19 Update

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

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. 

Message from Executive Director, Ben Weinlick

What is clear from this week’s address by the Premier on modelling scenarios for COVID-19 is that we all need to redouble our efforts at social distancing, educating each other, and reinforcing daily how important our safety measures and precautions are at Skills Society. 

Some Important Measures and Precautions We’ve Implemented at Skills:

  • Thorough and regular hand washing – Staff have been recommended to wash hands every 30 minutes while on shift as well as support the people we serve with regular and thorough hand hygiene
  • Practicing social distancing and only going out for essential items
  • Reducing physical interactions and staying connected through virtual and phone means 
  • Strict adherence to daily sanitizing checklists
  • Strict adherence to filling out the visitor and staff symptom checklist before entering a home 
  • Staff and the people we support self monitoring for the slightest symptoms – Staff not coming to work with symptoms and the people we support not going out if they have symptoms 
  • Adherence by employees to our policies and procedures around COVID-19
  • Managers calling the Center for Disease Control number when someone we support might have the slightest symptoms so they can help us protect people right away 

Together We are Strong

The coming weeks and months are going to be tough for everyone. But we’re strong as a Skills Society family. Our leaders and front line staff do what we do because we have deep convictions and compassion – knowing in our bones that people with disabilities deserve good lives and can’t be left behind. I urge everyone to remember that and carry that strength for the people we serve, for yourselves, for families, and community.

People are going to need our calm, empathetic support. We’re going to get through this together. We’ll grieve at times for how the world has changed so quickly and that’s ok. We’ll need each other as a community more than ever. The people we’re shepherding through this will need us. Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, ask for help, and we’ll navigate together. 

The Importance of Our Preventative Measures

For now I really want to impress upon everyone how important all our preventative measures are and that they’re followed. I will repeat it again and again and so will other leaders in our organization. These measures will protect and safeguard lives. Please don’t let anyone become complacent. 

COVID-19 is very contagious and will spread throughout communities in Alberta in the coming weeks and months. As this happens, sometimes there might be the urge to blame others. We need to resist that urge, as Dr. Hinshaw has said, and instead focus on what we can control to limit the spread. Something we can control is how consistently and thoroughly we implement the above outlined safety and preventative measures.

We are also fortunate we live in Alberta. We have stellar health care and the health system has had time to prepare. That is hopeful. We’ll all take it one step at a time, and together move forward to protect some of the most amazing citizens we have the good fortune to serve.

Navigating Feelings Associated with COVID-19

One last thing to say this week. This graphic below has been sparking very good generative conversations among some staff and I wanted to share it. On one level it acknowledges that we will all at times move through the different zones as we navigate COVID-19. On another level it gives some support to how to move out of the fear zone and into a learning and growth zone. I know for myself, what can break me out of the fear zone, is looking around and being grateful for the amazing work people are doing and the creativity of community members to support each other. Remembering the deep purpose I feel to protect the folks we serve and our employees also helps me move out of the fear zone. I hope you might take time to reflect on the zones and discuss in teams, and over virtual calls with family and friends over this easter weekend. Wishing you all strength, health and good rest over this long weekend. 

Some Data the Premier Shared this Week

This week the Premier shared possible modelling scenarios of how many people in Alberta will likely be infected with COVID-19 in the coming months. Most people will have mild illness, however it can be quite serious for the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Despite the scenarios, we are fortunate we live in Alberta which has a very strong health care system that has been preparing for COVID-19 well before most other parts of the world. 

The key message the Premier emphasized was that every citizen needs to do their part to continue physical distancing, very regular hand washing, and never going out if they have symptoms. This will reduce the number of infections and allow our health system to support people who will need help in the coming weeks and months. Now is not the time to relax physical distancing measures. https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=70037929BF11B-FD0E-C91A-8136EEB456A80B64

Update from Dr.Hinshaw to Disability Service Providers

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw whom you’ve likely seen in daily updates on the news, also shared with disability service providers this week, that in small community living homes where 3-4 roommates live together and practice social distancing, the risk is low of contracting COVID-19. But this means we need to continue social distancing and reducing the amount of people coming and going from people’s homes. This continues to be practiced and strategized at Skills to reduce interactions and protect the people we serve. 

Continued Sincere Gratitude to our Employees

It is well known that people with developmental disabilities are often some of the most isolated citizens in our communities. At Skills Society a deep value we have is supporting people to strengthen connections, belonging and healthy relationships. With COVID-19 safety precautions, it is especially tough for the folks we serve to stay home more and have less or no physical contact with family, friends and neighbours. Our employees are keenly aware of this and I continue to hear inspiring stories of creativity, compassion, and solidarity of our community support workers, team leaders and managers as they figure out ways to support people to stay connected and yet physically safe. 

I heard for example this week that people are connecting more via facetime to share some laughs, watch videos together, and spend time virtually hanging out with friends and family. We also have an initiative underway where our CommuniTEA Infusion project is going to go virtual in the coming weeks to support people we serve to connect at home via digital means, some good food made at home, fun and conversations. 

The reality is, most of the people we serve rely on daily front line supports for eating, personal care, medication administration and being supported to stay safe and connected. We are grateful our supports have been deemed essential services by the Government of Alberta this past week. 

Sincere gratitude to all our front line supports for supporting people to be safe, for being pillars of strength, care and compassion to people we serve in navigating these unprecedented times. Guardians, families, and employees I also hope you can express gratitude in small ways to our people on the front lines keeping people safe and connected.  

Safeguarding People

To date we have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst our staff and the people we support. We assure you the leadership of Skills Society will not put people we support or our employees in harms way. We have developed many safety procedures and precautions that go beyond current standards to protect and safeguard everyone as best we can. We look to health authorities for guidance and support and continue to follow all recommended guidelines to safeguard people. 

Our Pandemic Coordinators continue to source Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). In the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19 amongst someone we support or our staff, Alberta Health Services, the Communicable Disease Control team, and PDD continue to say that they will help, support, and advise. 

We have been and will continue to follow PPE instructions from health authorities and will not send employees to support people when they do not have access to the appropriate PPE.  In the event Skills or health authorities cannot provide proper PPE and people served cannot self isolate on their own and care for themselves, we will be immediately notifying PDD, the AHS Communicable Disease Control team, and guardians. In this scenario  it is likely health officials will either take people to hospital or a safe COVID-19 support facility. We have heard from PDD officials that they are working with Health to create places where people with disabilities can be supported in the event service providers cannot safely support people in their homes. 

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

  • New videos on proper hand washing and washing groceries to safeguard during COVID-19 now live on our COVID-19 Resource page on our website https://www.skillssociety.ca/covid-19-resources/
  • Updated procedures for employees on hand washing while at work – we now recommend they wash their hands at a minimum of every 30 mins when on shift
  • Updated procedures on safely supporting people showing symptoms
  • Updated procedures on safely transporting people if absolutely necessary
  • Memo on AHS and Skills stance on Non-Medical masks and their associated risks

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

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.

 

Previous Public Memos

Public Memos are available on our website under the ‘news’ tab.

March 3rd COVID-19 Update →

March 12th COVID-19 Update →

March 16th COVID-19 Update →

March 20th COVID-19 Update →

March 27th COVID-19 Update →

April 3rd COVID-19 Update →

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. 

 

Sincerely,

 

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.