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
We continue to follow direction and information provided by Provincial, Federal 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
As of today we continue to have NO confirmed cases of COVID-19 with anyone we support, nor any of our employees. This continues to be due to all employees and guardians following our safety measures and precautions as well as due to the greater community doing their part to follow the direction of the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH). This continues to be great news, but we also recognize that if we as a community let our guard down or become complacent with social distancing, hand hygiene and the other measures recommended by the CMOH, then COVID-19 could still spread.
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 taking a cautious approach to loosening restrictions and precautions. There is not one standard approach to re-opening that applies for all, because health risks are different for various populations. For instance due to higher cases in southern Alberta and Calgary they have stronger restrictions for the general population than in Edmonton. As Premier Jason Kenney said this week on the re-opening and why it will be different for different parts of Alberta and different populations, “It’s better to be safe than sorry”.
Big Shout Out To Families, Guardians and Our Stellar Employees
Navigating all the changes due to COVID-19 has not been easy for anyone. Everyone has had to adapt, compromise, and do their best given the circumstances. It has been particularly difficult for many of the people we serve, and families. We want to acknowledge the sacrifices everyone has had to make and the patience everyone has shown with the policies and procedures to safeguard folks we serve, families, employees and community. Much gratitude is in order!
Gratitude to the People we Serve…
Genuine and heartfelt thanks to the people we serve who have taken all the rapid changes in stride and continue to be patient and flexible in face of so much uncertainty. We know the changes and recommendations from Skills and health authorities have not always been easy to adopt. We are so grateful for the sacrifices you have already made and those you continue to make, in an effort to keep those around you safe.
Gratitude for Families…
Big shout out to families who were able to take loved ones home to stay with family early on. This was, and continues to be, the safest option for all, but also very challenging and not an option for most. Only about 5% of the people we support had the conditions to be able to go to their family homes. This showcases how essential our supports are to people served and their families. It is a strong reminder that the supports we provide cannot always be filled in by family members or other natural supports, even though this is something funders and policy makers often assume is possible. We continue to have stellar staff and leadership who find creative ways to check in and support people staying at their family home through these times. I’m hearing that some families are now working with leadership to plan safe strategies for the individual served to come back to their home where they are supported by Skills. Thank you to all families, guardians and staff for navigating this so well.
Gratitude for our Employees…
It continues to be the best part of my week to hear stories of how employees are going above and beyond to be pillars of support to people we serve, families and fellow employees. People we support are engaging in the new Virtual CommuniTEA Infusion gatherings and some are even hosting virtual events to share their musical, DJing, and cooking skills with others. This really exemplifies what CMOH Dr. Hinshaw keeps saying that – “We’re all in this together” – and just how much individual community members can come together in times of crisis to help each other out. It warms the heart when you hear how dedicated, protective, empathetic and supportive people are. Thank you so much for this, and showing by example how you’re putting our Skills’ values into action everyday.
We are All In this Together
Depending on how COVID-19 spreads in coming months we will likely all have to continue to adapt and evolve as the COVID-19 situation continues to change. Thank you for recognizing how interconnected we all are and that what one of us does, can have ripple effects on others – including roommates and employees. Being one of the oldest disability service organizations in the Edmonton region, a significant amount of people we serve are over 60 years of age and have medical complexities. This is a big factor in Skills being very cautious and implementing all the safeguards we have. Even if a particular person we support does not have medical complexities and is at lower risk of complications due to COVID-19, their roommate (another person we support) could be at higher risk and so we have to consider all these factors in finding safe pathways forward.
Skills Society’s Present Approach to Navigating Alberta’s 3 Stage Re-Launch
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. Skills Leadership is watching very carefully the province’s plans for reopening and planning how Skills Society will adapt and align while also protecting people we serve and employees. We will continue to be cautious and implement approaches that align with what the Premier said on May 14th, that – “it’s better to be safe than sorry”.
We serve many people who have medical complexities that make them particularly vulnerable to becoming seriously sick if they were to get COVID-19. This is why it continues to be so important that we continue to be cautious and remember that we are still in uncertain times with how COVID-19 will play out in coming months. In Germany’s reopening almost two weeks ago, they found that cases of COVID-19 tripled in less than a week and had to go back to further restrictions. Looking at what’s happening in other parts of the world and the needs of people we serve, we will not be loosening our current COVID-19 policies or procedures at present. We will be watching the situation very closely and following the recommendations of health authorities.
Key pieces we need members of our Skills Society community to understand around how we’re approaching Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy:
- The Province’s relaunch strategy is not the same for all citizens and organizations. Take a look at the chart below. We are currently in Stage 1. It says vulnerable citizens outside care facilities still need to remain home as much as possible. This means people we support should still be advised to not go out to stores or visits beyond the home as much as possible. Managers, team leaders and guardians will continue to work together to support good mental health and safe ways of engaging that follow safety protocols. These might include continuing with regular virtual social connections or following recommendations and procedures for outdoor visits.
- Most people we support have roommates and live inter-dependently. Interdependence here means that what one person does affects others. This means that someone we support might be young and healthy, but their roommate might be older and have medical complexities that puts them at risk. We have to find pathways to protect all involved in a home and this is not easy. We appreciate the patience and working together with managers and leadership to find safe pathways forward while following our COVID-19 safeguard procedures.
- We have decided to take a cautious approach. Some disability services have taken different approaches than us. We support a significant amount of older folks and we take safety very seriously. We do everything in our power to protect and safeguard the people we serve, employees and community. To date our approach has helped us be COVID free with over 450 employees and 350 people we support. We can’t control everything and COVID-19 still could come into a home due to community transmission. We want to be able to look back and confidently say we did everything in our power to prevent COVID-19. We have received much support from guardians and employees for our cautious approach. We are however starting to get questions and comments that we are being too cautious and should loosen up precautions. Like the Premier said, “it’s better to be safe than sorry”. We will continue to take a cautious approach to safeguard as best we can.
More information on Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy can be found here: https://www.alberta.ca/alberta-relaunch-strategy.aspx
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.
Actions Being Taken by Skills Society Since Our Last Update
Below is an overview of measures we have taken since our last update. For an overview of preventative measures previously implemented please see our previous memos linked at the bottom of this message.
New Actions Since Our Last Update
- Hazard Pay Policy and Procedures implemented to support staff who choose to continue to support people in the event of someone we support is confirmed to have COVID-19. As per the employee memo, NO employee will be compelled to work if someone they support is confirmed to have COVID-19 and there will be NO disciplinary action for refusing to work. We’re so grateful for the employees that have stepped forward to say they will support people if confirmed COVID-19. There is no judgement on employees that feel they won’t be able to. For employees that choose to continue to work if someone is confirmed to have COVID-19, they will receive time and half pay, proper PPE, safety training, and expectations to follow all safety protocols.
- We continue to be part of sector advocacy efforts for general wage top ups for all disability service employees. No new information on this is available at present.
- Virtual CommuniTEA Infusion events are rolling to help keep people connected https://www.skillssociety.ca/news/introducing-the-virtual-communitea-infusion-project/
- Mental Health and Wellbeing virtual workshops are being offered to all employees.
- Thursday May 14, 2020 10:30 am – 12 pm or
- Wednesday May 20, 2020 3:30pm – 5pm.
- Employees can contact Tracey Woodward to sign up.
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.
Wishing you a safe and peaceful May long weekend.
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 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.
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.