July 24th, 2020 COVID Update

Memo to: People we Support, Families, Guardians and Skills Society Employees

Re: Skills Society Update – Prevention and Preparedness Regarding the Novel-Corona Virus (COVID-19)

From: Executive Director and Senior Leadership of Skills Society

July 24th, 2020 Update

As per usual we always start by reminding our Skills community we continue to follow direction and information provided by Provincial and Federal 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. As of today we continue to have NO confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst anyone we support, nor any of our employees. This is partly to do with our cautious approach and safety procedures in place and partly due to luck as community transmission is increasing, although still is low at present. 

Message from Executive Director, Ben Weinlick

Folks, it has been a little while since our last public update on COVID-19. Leaders from Skills Society have been diligently working with each person we support, family members and guardians to create individual and roommate COVID-19 plans as per our stage 2 relaunch plans we outlined on June 23rd. This has been very complex to navigate, but what is clear from feedback on planning is that the overarching theme is one of people looking out for each other and following advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health(CMOH). We have also received praise from families, PDD(our main funder), Office of the Public Guardian and other service providers for our thorough and cautious approach with relaunch plans. Kudos and thanks to everyone we serve, families, guardians and our stellar employees for navigating this so well and on time with our stage 2 relaunch timelines. 

We need to remind everyone that we are not back to normal or pre-COVID ways of providing support. We are still within stage 2 of the provincial relaunch strategy and stage 2 of our Skills Society relaunch plan. This means there are still temporary staffing support models in place due to COVID, and protocols like continuous masking, daily health checklists, and cleaning procedures that all employees have to follow. In fact all our policies and procedures including COVID-19 procedures we expect all employees to follow and represent. As you know, these procedures are very important safeguards to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard people we serve, our employees and community. We also recognize, as the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) Dr. Deena Hinshaw said earlier this week, that there is no such thing as a risk-free approach with COVID-19. Community transmission of COVID-19 is now something we are all having to adapt to and live with. Everyone in society is learning how to navigate this new normal and safeguard as best possible. We are all very fortunate to have the health system we have, advanced testing and contact tracing to slow the spread and help ensure our health systems can support anyone who needs support if COVID-19 is contracted. 

Gratitude to employees 

Our supports to citizens with developmental disabilities are essential services and relied on to help the people we serve be safe and connected. Continued and big thank you to all our employees. Advocacy continues for wage top ups from our Ministry, but there is no word yet and the whole world is facing unprecedented challenges. Reminder that our funding for wages comes mainly from CSS/PDD services and we receive NO funding from Health Services. Thank you for your patience with stage 2 support models as we work to reduce potential spread and keep everyone as safe as possible. 

 

New CMOH orders came out this past week (Order 29-2020)

Now, there are a few updates with new recommended health orders that CMOH brought into effect July 23rd. We have adapted procedures where applicable and communicated them to employees this past week. These orders (29-2020) are recommendations from CMOH and if requested individuals we support and guardians could request an update to their Individual and Roommate COVID-19 plans. But it is not required. The changes outlined below are a loosening of restrictions from CMOH and only recommendations. 

You can read the full order (29-2020) by clicking here.

Highlights from the NEW CMOH Order 29-2020

On July 23, 2020, as per Chief Medical Officer of Health order 29-2020, Alberta shifted from a ‘restricted access’ to a ‘safe access’ approach for visits in licensed supportive living and long-term care settings. Order 29-2020 provides guidance for safe visiting in these settings. Health Authorities and our ministry, CSS/PDD, continue to strongly recommend that individual’s supported through PDD funded services, follow recommendations for what the provincial government is calling “At Risk Albertans (Facility Based)”. As communicated in our relaunch plan, Skills Society is not a guardian of anyone we serve and in stage 2 the risk tolerances and choices of individuals and guardians is a factor in their requested support from service providers. This is why we required individual and roommate plans to safeguard and ensure all risks and recommendations are understood, and strategies were created. These individual and roommate plans are in alignment with the new CMOH orders as well. Below are the highlights from this order as they relate to the Skills stage 2 of relaunch. 

These are recommendations and therefore individuals and guardians may choose to update individual and roommate plans based on this new information if requested. Please contact your Manager of Community Supports if you wish to revise individual and roommate plans. 

Indoor Visit Recommendations 

As per Health order 29-2020(July 23rd, 2020) and Skills’ Social Distancing for People we Serve Procedure, indoor visits continue to have a maximum of three people (including the individual), as long as physical distancing can be maintained. Visitors are still recommended to continuously wear a mask when inside someone’s home, and as per Skills procedures, are expected to wear a mask if staff or roommates are present.

Outdoor Visit Recommendations 

As per Health order 29-2020(July 23rd, 2020), the new recommendation for outdoor visits is up to five people (including the individual), where physical distancing can be maintained (with the exception of visitors from the same household). Outdoor visits (including frequency and number of participants) were negotiated as part of individual plans and roommate agreements (where applicable), following recommendations from CMOH for all Albertans. Visitors are still recommended to avoid entering the home.   

Overnight Visit Recommendations 

As per Health order 29-2020(July 23rd, 2020), overnight visits inside the homes of people we support are still not recommended. As per Skills stage 2 relaunch plan, overnight visits are possible where they are considered essential by individuals and guardians to support physical or mental wellbeing. Plans outlining rationale and safeguards for the visit were made as part of individual and roommate plans (where applicable) to mitigate risk. 

Safe Visiting Practices

Below is additional guidance from CMOH order 29-2020 regarding safe visiting practices. These include guidance on assessing risk of unknown exposure to COVID-19, the use of PPE to enable safe physical touch, and visiting animals and gifts. 

Reminder these are recommendations from CMOH. Skills Society expectations as outlined in stage 2 relaunch plans and individual and roommate plans still apply. 

Risk of Unknown Exposure to COVID-19

As part of the guidance for safe visiting, CMOH outlines the importance for visitors to understand risks of unknown exposure to COVID-19. Order 29-2020 includes a table which guides visitors in assessing their behaviour within the last 14 days and risk of unknown exposure to COVID-19. This is in addition to (does not replace) health assessment screening in these settings. The table is included below for individuals and guardians to reference with visitors should they choose.

Use of PPE to Enable Safe Physical Touch

Order 29-2020 includes guidance for physical touch during visits. Individuals and visitors should understand that the risk of COVID-19 transmission increases with close proximity to others. 

The following recommendations are provided by CMOH for physical touch: 

Reminder these are recommendations from CMOH. Skills Society expectations as outlined in stage 2 relaunch plans and individual and roommate plans still apply. 

  • Stop close contact with the person you are visiting and inform staff immediately for further direction if they are or become symptomatic during the visit
  • Continuously wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth while within 2 meters of the person you are visiting
  • Though the individual does not need to also wear a mask, they may choose to do so based on their own preferences and risk tolerance 
  • Perform hand hygiene (hand washing and/or use of alcohol based hand sanitizer) both before and after direct physical contact with the person you are visiting 
  • If the visitor is seeing someone who is symptomatic, staff are to ensure visitors are provided the required PPE, are trained (i.e., provide instructions on how to put it on and take it off), and have practiced the appropriate use of the PPE

Visitors at high risk of unknown exposure (as per the table mentioned above) are not recommended by CMOH to engage in physical touch with the person they are visiting. For visitors at medium risk of exposure, physical touch is only recommended where the person they are visiting’s risk tolerance is high. Individual’s preferences and perceptions of risk are diverse and personal. Therefore, as part of Skills stage 2 relaunch collaborative discussions took place to explore individuals’ and guardians’ risk tolerance related to COVID-19 through the creation of individual and roommate plans. 

Visiting Animals and Gifts

Reminder these are recommendations from CMOH. Skills Society expectations as outlined in stage 2 relaunch plans and individual and roommate plans still apply. 

As per CMOH order 29-2020, one animal is permitted to accompany visitors or staff during indoor and outdoor visits within licensed supportive living and long-term care settings. The order states that visiting animals must be well (i.e., not displaying signs of illness such as vomiting) and not come from a household with individuals at high risk of unknown exposure to COVID-19. Visitors can now also bring gifts, including homemade or purchased food or flowers/plants. Depending on the individual’s preferences and risk tolerance, gifts may be requested to be cleaned and disinfected or quarantined for a period of time (when disinfection is not possible). 

Updates to Skills Procedures and Relaunch Plan

Below are the update highlights to Skills procedures and relaunch plan as a result of the new recommendations from health authorities (CMOH order 29-2020): 

Federal Government to Provide COVID-19 Financial Relief for People with Disabilities

On July 21, 2020 the Government of Canada passed legislation for a one-time, tax-free $600 benefit for people with disabilities and their families to assist with additional expenses as a result of COVID-19. The benefit will be distributed automatically to all Canadians who are eligible. Eligible recipients include people who are Disability Tax Credit (DTC)-eligible, recipients of the Canadian Pension Plan Disability benefit, people accessing disability supports through Veterans Affairs Canada, and families receiving the Child Disability Benefit. The Government is providing a 60 day window for people who are eligible for the DTC, but have not yet applied, to do so. 

Mental Health Resources 

Alberta Health Services webpage ‘Help in Tough Times’ offers a comprehensive list of supports and resources for Albertan during stressful times. This webpage also includes COVID-19 online resources and where to find and access support. You can visit their website by clicking here

The Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week at 1-877-303-2642. 

 

We greatly appreciate your patience and support as we continue to navigate these times. We are in stage 2 of relaunch and it will likely be awhile until a vaccine is available and we are back to normal ways of operating. 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

 

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.

 

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 →

April 9th COVID-19 Update →

April 13th COVID-19 Update →

April 17th COVID-19 Update →

May 1st COVID-19 Update→

May 15th COVID-19 Update →

June 5th COVID-19 Update –>

June 12th COVID 19 Update →

June 23rd COVID-19 Update ->

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.