Memo to: People we Support, Families, Guardians and Skills Society Employees
Re: Prevention and Preparedness Regarding the Novel-Corona Virus (COVID-19)
From: Executive Director and Senior Leadership of Skills Society
June 5th, 2020 Update
We continue to follow direction and information provided by Provincial and Federal Governments and Public Health Authorities. As you know, the situation with COVID-19 is constantly evolving and we are always 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
Navigating the Provincial Relaunch
As of today we continue to have NO confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst anyone we support, nor any of our employees. The leadership of Skills Society has looked closely at the age of people we support and underlying medical conditions that Alberta Health has presently deemed could cause complications if COVID-19 is contracted. Looking at this data confirmed that we serve many people with medical complexities that make them particularly vulnerable to becoming seriously sick. This is why, as you’ll see below, at Skills Society, we are continuing to take a cautious approach to loosening restrictions and precautions. As Premier Jason Kenney said with the provinces relaunch strategy “It’s better to be safe than sorry”.
We are facing many tensions and pressures related to the provincial relaunch. We have many complexities to balance with striving to protect the people we serve, safeguard employees, support the mental health and wellbeing of people we serve, families and employees, and try to ensure we have enough staffing to safely serve people. We are not funded by Alberta Health or Alberta Health Services, yet the Chief Medical Officer of Health and our ministry CSS/PDD continues to state in CMOH health orders like 23-2020 that PDD funded services like ours should follow CMOH orders as best as we can. This means that, in alignment with the reopening and relaunch plan of the Alberta Government, some of the restrictions currently in our sector will loosen more slowly than they do for the general public. This is because, as I stated in my previous memo, the relaunch is not the same for all Albertans.
Skills Society’s Relaunch Plan In The Works
The leadership and board of Skills Society are working diligently on a relaunch plan and strategy specific to Skills Society that will be released in the next two weeks. This strategy will share our recommendations to individuals, guardians and families, and will outline what safeguards will be in place at Skills Society during stage 2 of Alberta’s relaunch.
The following four principles continue to guide us as we navigate the relaunch:
- Cautious – Safeguarding people we serve and employees as best we can
- Balanced – Always balancing precautions with safeguarding the mental and physical well being of the people we serve.
- Responsive – Evolving as we learn new information and receive different recommendations from Health Authorities.
- Informed – Incorporating the latest information and evidence from Health Authorities and our ministry, CSS/PDD.
In the building of our relaunch plan, we are researching different options, learning from others in the sector, and will also incorporate information shared as part of the PDD/CSS relaunch plan guide set to be released on Mon, June 8, 2020.
Our relaunch plan, which will be released soon, will include procedures and recommendations in the following key areas:
- Visitors to Homes of people we serve
- Accessing Community (Outings)
- In Home Living (things like shared spaces, dining, group activities in the home)
- Transportation for the people we serve
- Staffing models
- Training for Staff
Complexities we Have to Consider with the Relaunch
In the sections that follow, a number of complexities we have to consider in navigating the relaunch are highlighted.
Understanding Where we Fit: Looking at where our services fit within the broader provincial relaunch framework
On April 30th the Premier shared the government’s plan for re-opening Alberta (see graphic below). On May 14th The premier implemented Stage 1. It is possible Stage 2 will begin as early as mid June. Something that has been challenging for us to navigate is where our services fall. As you can see in the chart below, they fall somewhere between what the province has called “vulnerable Albertans outside facility” and “vulnerable Albertans in facility”. This has made it challenging to interpret what recommendations we should follow. We have, and continue to, ask for clarity from our ministry, CSS/PDD, in this regard. To date, the ministry and health authorities continue to strongly advise organizations like ours to follow orders put forward by the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Vulnerable Albertans in Facility, as best we can, as long as the immediate safety of the people we serve and staffing are not negatively affected. This is one reason we continue to strive to have staff only work in one organization and one home or site as much as possible without jeopardizing the immediate safety needs of the people we serve.
More information on Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy can be found here: https://www.alberta.ca/alberta-relaunch-strategy.aspx
Striking a Balance: Developing staffing models that reduce the potential spread of COVID-19, meet the immediate safety needs of people served, and support the wellbeing of staff
We expect with Stage 2 of the relaunch we will have to continue to look at minimizing movement of employees between homes as much as possible as this is one of the biggest things we can do to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19. At the same time, we recognize, maintaining staffing models where staff work at only one home within Skills, will be increasingly challenging without jeopardizing the wellbeing of both people served and staff. In addition, we have many staff who have taken a Leave of Absence (LOA) and will have questions around when they can return to work at Skills.
As we look to stage 2 of the relaunch, we must hold all these considerations in tension. We are currently exploring a variety of options related to staffing models and are looking to strike a balance between maintaining single site models and returning to pre-COVID models. At present, this balance seems to be looking at having staff working in up to two homes within Skills. Staff that are currently on an LOA will receive a letter in the near future outlining options available to them for returning to work at Skills.
Working Together: Balancing implementing restrictions and safeguards with respecting the rights and decisions of people we serve and guardians
Most people we support have roommates and live independently with them – what one person does has an impact on others who live with them. This interdependence is particularly important to consider during COVID-19 because it means that the choices of one roommate might have significant ripple effects in the life of the other roommates. For example, if one roommate is healthy and decides later in the relaunch that they are comfortable going out and having visitors over, they may inadvertently jeopardize the health of their roommate who is older or has medical complexities and is at higher risk of becoming seriously sick. One piece of this that is good news is most living arrangements supported by Skills Society are quite small – usually 2-3 roommates living together. This already greatly reduces the risk of spread as Dr.Hinshaw stated in a town hall a couple months ago.
As we look to stage two of the relaunch, we have to find pathways that strive to protect all involved in a home. This of course, is not easy because people we serve and guardians will have different perspectives on COVID-19, different risk thresholds, and different levels of vulnerability.
We will continue to have specific safeguards such as hand washing, cleaning protocols, symptom checklists, and masking in place as part of the relaunch as these are some of the greatest things we can do to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. However, in addition to these safeguards we will also be looking to you, as a Skills community, to support us in navigating the relaunch and finding safe pathways forward that protect, as best we can, all individuals in a home. It is likely that we will be asking managers to lead planning conversations with roommates and guardians who live in a home together so they can explore comfort levels, vulnerabilities, and needs for different safeguards in place as the relaunch progresses.
We don’t run medical facilities, we support people in their own homes. Some people are independent adults and some people have guardians and family members who help with decisions. This can make it very complex to come to agreements that work for all. What will be tricky to navigate will be agreements between roommates and guardians on non-essential visits during stage 2. In our relaunch plan we will make strong recommendations in these areas based on health orders, however guardians and independent adult wishes will play a role in determining how non-essential visits will be navigated in each home. We ask all individuals, and guardians to please see the interdependence of roommates and think about actions affecting all involved.
Transportation and DATS
DATS policies and procedures will have a major impact on “relaunch” in the Edmonton Region. DATS has said, “Until the physical distancing restrictions are lifted by the province they are allowing no more than 2 individuals on a bus or 1 on vans regardless of if people live in the same household or not.” Physical distancing will likely continue until a vaccine or treatment is available. This will have an impact on the people we support’s ability to access the community.
To be clear – currently and until further notice
People we support are still recommended in orders from the CMOH to stay home as much as possible and limit visits with essential visitors to two people indoors and three people outdoors.
Guidelines for Outdoor Visits Continue
As CMOH Dr. Hinshaw has noted in order (14-2020), it is important for mental health to spend time outdoors. This is why we have taken steps and continue to incorporate the guidelines for outdoor visits between the people we serve and their family and friends. As per the memo that went out to staff May 1st, the people we serve will be supported to spend time outdoors, where desired and feasible. This can include visits with friends and family so long as the following precautions are followed:
- Where possible, outdoor visits should be limited to two people at a time
- Visitors are asked to complete the Skills Visitor Checklist prior to the start of the visit
- Visitors are asked to wash their hands thoroughly with either soap and water or hand sanitizer at the start and end of the visit and throughout as needed (i.e. if the visitor coughs or sneezes into their hand)
- We ask visitors to meet the people we serve outside their home. A staff can help the individual get outside to meet the visitors
- Where possible, have the visit take place in the neighborhood of the person we serve, avoiding travel in vehicles. Going for a socially distanced walk in the neighborhood or visiting on the lawn while sitting in chairs that are 2 meters apart are great examples of safe outdoor visits
- Where possible, maintain 2 meters distance between the person served and the visitors.
- We ask that visitors wear a mask for the entire visit. If possible, we ask visitors to bring their own masks because we have limited supply
We know, although the opportunity to have outdoor visits may bring some relief, that these measures are still not ideal. We want to thank the families and friends of the people we serve for doing their best to follow the procedures we have put in place as this goes a long way in helping protect the health and well being of the people we support.
Federal Wage Top Up Information For Staff
Alberta Council of Disability Service Providers (ACDS) has not heard anything about the status of the wage top up. The last information they have is that it has to go through Alberta Labour; CSS(PDD) has put disability support workers on Labour’s radar, but the decision is made by Labour and Treasury within the Government of Alberta. This matter/question was recently brought up in the legislature, however it was not answered.
As discussed in our virtual employee gathering two weeks ago, Skills Society is not funded by Alberta Health of AHS. We are mainly funded through the Community and Social Service Ministry under PDD and small contracts for Children’s Services (FSCD) and Acquired Brain Injury. Some other organizations have both health funded facilities and PDD funded services. In those orgs some staff may have received a wage top up through health/AHS funding from the government. We continue to advocate and hope this comes through for our essential service disability sector (CSS/PDD funded) which we all know is equally as important as health services.
Actions Being Taken by Skills Society Since Our Last Update
Below is an overview of measures we have taken since our last update. These measures are based on recommendations that came forward from the CMOH in Order 23-2020. For an overview of preventative measures previously implemented please see our previous memos linked at the bottom of this message.
|NEW: Confirmed COVID Procedure||New procedure for staff teams to use in the event that someone we support is confirmed to have COVID-19. There are important steps for Direct Supports, Managers, and Senior Managers to follow.
|UPDATE: Visitor and Staff Checklist
|New symptoms added; previous questions adjusted|
|UPDATE: Health Assessment Checklist for People we Support
|New symptoms and questions added|
|UPDATE: Supporting Someone Who is Sick Procedure||Reminder to Managers to always call the COVID Coordinated Response Line
Instructions to provide the person we serve a mask to wear when staff enter their room if the individual is self-isolating
Inclusion of a “Testing and Isolation Overview” – chart summarizing when testing and isolation are required
|UPDATE: Social Distancing for People we Serve Procedure||Additional detail provided around precautions people we serve should take when leaving the house. *Note we continue to recommend the people we serve stay home as much as possible and limit outings to essential ones only.
Individuals should wear a mask when leaving their house.
|UPDATE: Transportation During COVID Procedure||Previously called “Staff Transporting Individuals During COVID Procedure”
Now includes guidelines for when the people we serve travel in staff vehicles, take public transit, travel in the private vehicles of visitors/family
We greatly appreciate your patience and support as we continue to navigate these 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
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 your supervisor or pandemic coordinators, Linda or Ed at 780-496-9686.
- Keep up to date on our 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.
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.