Like everyone affected by the COVID-19 crisis, the Surrey Association for Community Living has had to pivot in order to continue to provide care for its clients.
Designated as essential service workers by the government, SACL, a non-profit organization, provides support services for more than 450 children and adults with developmental disabilities.
“I feel the essential service workers in the field of community living have been forgotten,” said executive director Coreen Windbiel. “I want the staff to know how much they are appreciated during this time. They do not wear uniforms or identification badges as we have spent years trying to include individuals with disabilities into the community by being their invisible support.”
To keep up with their support services, SACL has had to change the way they operate during the COVID pandemic.
“We have had to completely redesign our services to safely support individuals, families’ caregivers, and staff in a very short time,” explained Windbiel. “The staff, caregivers, and families are adjusting and they have done amazing.”
By redesign, Windbiel means to shut down their normal programs and adjust how their staff operates. Now a majority of their outreach consists of supporting the clients’ own families. Windbiel said staff have stayed in touch with everyone through Zoom, including playing bingo on Zoom. They also went around and dropped off Easter treats to every individual they support.
And SACL has not been untouched by the tentacles of the coronavirus. They have had one case of COVID-19 at one of their home-share providers.
Windbiel said SACL is remotely supporting individuals, families, and caregivers in many ways.
“We all work together and support each other on a daily basis and that has made us a strong, talented, smart, resourceful, dedicated team,” she said. “I am so impressed with the ideas that flow from each and everyone of our staff. Team SACL has taken each individual and tailored a plan for them according to their needs.”
Windbiel said they didn’t plan to close down any of their programs. They had originally planned to limit the numbers of people that could access their programs in order to adhere to social-distancing guidelines, but that idea was nixed when they realized many individuals had already chosen not to come at all until the pandemic was over.
Now managers and supervisors are connecting with families on a weekly basis. “Individual plans are being made for those who want support. Originally it consisted of a combination of working at the individual’s home and walks in the community, keeping social distance.” Windbiel said that plan had to be rethought very quickly because some individuals SACL supports have compromised immune systems.
“We did not want to increase their risk by having staff coming in and out of the home,” she noted. “We have found creative ways to support families to ensure everyone stays safe, including staff and the individuals we support.”
Windbiel said SACL was open for the first few weeks of the pandemic but, with every update, they were continually recalculating their approach.
“Soon we cancelled HandyDART, so individuals weren’t coming in on public transit. By week three none of the individuals were attending the program site for day programs.”
Until the pandemic is over, Windbiel said she’ll have a full-time health and safety officer to ensure SACL maintains the highest standards of safety for everyone.
“We have had to gather all our PPE ourselves. We have staff that have stepped up and made masks and hospital gowns. By the end of April, we will have had over 200 masks made by our staff.”
Windbiel said they now have a PPE room where staff can get hazmat suits, N95 masks, shields, hand sanitizer, and gowns.
She added that SACL has three group homes with staff that are dedicated to ensuring the individuals that live there stay safe and healthy.
“They are supported on a 24-hour basis, as they are in Home Share. The staff working in these homes have known the individual for many years and will do everything they can to ensure they stay safe and healthy. It has been hard for both, as our individuals do not always understand why they cannot go out to enjoy their daily activities.”
Windbiel said she’s very thankful for the dedication her staff has shown.
“They truly are amazing.”