March 27th, 2020 COVID-19 Update

COVID-19 Precautions and Preparedness: New Visitor Protocols

To: People we Support, Families, Guardians, and Employees

From: Executive Director and Senior Leadership of Skills Society 

Introduction

We are acutely aware that some of the citizens with disabilities we support are the most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill with COVID-19. We take the safety of all the people we support and our staff very seriously. Amidst the evolving situation with COVID-19, we are continually striving to strike a balance between respecting the personal autonomy of the people we support and their families while also protecting safety and health. 

Current Preventative Measures

As you know we have had a variety of COVID-19 precautionary and preventative measures in place for the past 3 weeks (see previous memos on our website for more detailed information). The people we support, families, guardians, and staff have been incredible – continually going above and beyond to embrace measures that safeguard safety and health for all. 

Recap of some of the key preventative measures already in place

  • Enhanced Cleaning: Team Leaders are ensuring that extra daily sanitizing procedures are taking place and reminding staff, people we serve, and families to wash hands before coming into a home, and when leaving. 
  • Social Distancing: Managers and team leaders have worked with families and teams to reduce physical interactions and do their best to make home life as vibrant, connected and safe as possible. This is tough for everyone and we all hope we can get back to regular living soon. But for now, to protect the health and safety of people, we need to do everything possible to reduce the frequency of visits at homes and reduce going out community . 
  • Staff and visitors who are sick staying home: We have also communicated many times and strictly enforced that no staff or any visitor with any mild cold or flu symptoms is allowed to come to work or allowed to visit a residence where we support someone. This is for the safety of everyone and our community. 
  • People we support staying with family: Where possible our leaders have been exploring ways families can take loved ones home to family homes as it is the safest option at present. However, we recognize this is only possible for a small number of people we serve. 

Ongoing daily expectations for all in the homes of the people we support

  • All people who have any cold or flu symptoms must stay home and not go out to work or any other public spaces.
  • Everyone must practice and teach very thorough and frequent hand hygiene practices, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Everyone to cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing: Coughing or sneezing into the inner side of your elbow has shown to prevent spread of colds and flu.
  • Everyone reminding each other to not touch their face (eyes, nose or mouth) with unwashed hands.
  • Frequently cleaning surfaces, door knobs and other frequently touched objects using disinfectant such as Lysol or Clorox that states clearly on the bottle that it eliminates 99.9% of germs and viruses.

New Preventative Measures

Given, the rapidly changing situation, and with guidance from health authorities, we feel the need to implement further preventative measures to continue to safeguard the health of the people we support. Taking effect March 28th, in all places where Skills Society staff support people, all people entering a home will be required to complete a quick checklist and sign it confirming they do not have any symptoms and/or have not been exposed to someone who has COVID-19. 

On March 25th, 2020, during the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s Daily Public Health Update, she spoke of a disability service support home in Calgary where, unfortunately, some individuals supported and staff contracted COVID-19. Our hearts go out to these individuals, their families, and supports. We take this news very seriously and are doing everything in our power to avoid a situation like this at Skills Society.

The reality is that many of the people we serve require daily assistance from front line supports with things like eating, personal care, and taking medications. This movement of essential supports in and out of  homes creates added vulnerability and puts vulnerable people at an increased exposure risk. To further help reduce and mitigate this exposure risk, we feel it is necessary to take, what might seem like extraordinary measures, to ensure no one with symptoms of COVID-19 or possible exposure to COVID-19 enters their home. 

Implementing a Quick Daily Checklist

To further enforce this, we are implementing a quick checklist that all people entering the houses of the people we support will be required to complete. We feel this is an important step in further safeguarding the health of the people we serve and staff. The checklist is adapted from one that Alberta Health Services has created and that Public Health Authorities are requiring in long term care facilities and other places where citizens with increased vulnerability to the virus live. 

To be clear, none of the homes where we support people are licensed facilities under the new Public Health Orders, however, we feel it necessary to implement this additional preventative measure to protect the people we serve. We have been urged to consider mirroring the recommendations outlined in the Public Health Orders for licensed homes by the Community and Social Services Ministry as this is seen as an important preventative measure. Requiring people who enter the houses of the people we support to do the checklist, will help to further reduce the chance that a person who is sick goes into a home and unknowingly spreads COVID-19. 

An excerpt from a memo sent to Skills Society on March 24th by CSS:

“Community and Social Services (CSS) wants to be clear that this order applies to all homes and sites licensed under the Supportive Living and Accommodation Licensing Act (SLALA) including disability services group homes with four (4) or more people. Therefore, the group homes that you manage with four (4) or more residents are legally required to follow this public health order. Also, and based on your organization’s particular circumstances, you may want to also consider extending these measures to your smaller sites.”

– John Stinson, Assistant Deputy Minister, Program Policy and Improvement, Community and Social Services & Jason Chance, Assistant Deputy Minister, Delivery Services, Community and Social Services

View the full memo here: https://acds.ca/files/Resources/pandemic_planning/ACDS_Comms_PublicHealthOrder_March24_Final.pdf

Below is the checklist we will be using. Further instructions will be messaged out to Team Leaders and teams by Managers. 

As per the checklist instructions, in the case that a visitor or Skills Society staff answers yes to any of the questions and symptoms are not related to seasonal allergies or asthma, they will not be permitted to enter the home. Skills staff in that instance will need to notify their supervisor immediately before entering a home or worksite. If a family member answers yes to any questions, they will be asked to call the manager immediately to discuss options. This is difficult, but an important safety measure until Health authorities deem it safe to discontinue use of the checklist. 

Process for a Suspected Case of COVID-19 in Someone we Support 

When a suspected case of COVID-19 emerges amongst the people we support, we will be in immediate contact with Health and will follow their directions, guidance, and support. In the recent case referenced above in a Calgary Group Home, the Health authorities and PDD are supporting the organization and we expect the same support if people we serve become sick with COVID-19. Our staff are not Health professionals and we will require extra support.

Urging Families and Loved Ones to Find Other Creative Ways of Being Connected

A number of holidays that may hold great meaning to families and the people we support are approaching. Following the advice of the Chief Medical Officer, and to safeguard the health of the people we support, our staff, and families, we urge families to find other creative ways of being connected over the holidays. Staff will be more than happy to work together with families on this, helping to facilitate online, video, and phone conversations whenever possible. We recognize it is incredibly challenging and disappointing to not get to spend these times together with your loved ones but appreciate your support and cooperation in this matter. Limiting visitors to the houses of the people we support is one of the best mechanisms of fighting the spread of the virus. 

“Now is not the time to plan any travel, even to other cities or provinces, or to attend large family gatherings or dinners. We must maintain social-distancing practices – even when we are together with family. Now is not the time to visit grandparents for Sunday dinner. Now is not the time to host or attend a potluck with friends. Now is not the time to plan for a family reunion. This is the time to stay home, and work together to limit the spread.” – Dr. Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health

Resources and News

For More Information

  • If you are a Skills Employee and require additional information you can be in touch with your supervisor, manager or pandemic coordinators, Linda or Ed at 780-496-9686.
  • If you are a family or guardian and require additional information you can be in touch with the manager associated with your loved one’s support.

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.

Sincerely,

Ben Weinlick, Executive Director and the Senior Management Team

 

Appendix 1: Checklist for all People Entering the Homes of People we Support

Appendix 2: Self Isolation Requirements for Albertans

Note – mandatory self isolation is only required for symptoms not related to a pre-existing illness or health condition. Retrieved from: https://www.alberta.ca/self-isolation.aspx