Q: What have been your most significant challenges for the past few months?
We were committed to keeping all the residential programs open, but maintaining enough staff to keep the programs open was an incredible challenge. On March 16, all outside day programs that our residents usually attended were closed, which immediately required us to find additional staff to fill the 9:00am-3:00pm gap five days a week.
Q: What was the plan to keep residents and staff safe and the plan for if/when a resident or staff person became ill?
I was so thankful for the leadership of Dr. Mike Tang, our Chief Behavioral Health Officer, at this time. Mike helped us put in place various processes to combat the spread of COVID-19 such as social distancing, isolation, cleaning and disinfecting and temperature and symptoms checks of both residents and staff members. He also arranged for residents who tested positive to be moved to another building on the Dimock campus, the Z Building, to provide a place to stay and recover or for those who needed to quarantine while awaiting test results.
Q: How many residents and staff were impacted by the virus?
Department of Developmental Services (DDS) programs across the state have been profoundly affected by COVID-19, including our group homes. Out of 24 residents, seven became ill and nine of our staff members also became ill from the virus. Fortunately, as of now, none of the residents under Dimock’s care have died from COVID-19. On April 7, the first of the seven became ill. From that point on, we had residents and staff moving in and out of the residential homes to the Z Building to be quarantined. Three of the residents required hospitalization. We were fortunate to work closely with Dimock’s Health Center to ensure proactive testing of all clients and staff, even those without symptoms, which helped us identify cases early and minimize the spread. The Dimock Health Center team even went to many of the houses to do on-site testing!
Q: What was this crisis like for you and your staff?
I’ve never worked so hard in my life! It was a very emotional time for all of us. There are many heroes in this story: the staff members who worked long hours; other staff members working similar hours covering for staff who were sick; staff who recovered from the virus and gladly returned to work with their residents, who are more like family members than clients; the residents who continue to isolate themselves in their rooms to protect themselves and others; and the family member who had to support their loved ones from a distance.
Hilda is the Manager of the Sycamore Street residential home. She was one of the staff who contracted the coronavirus and was ill for five weeks. We are so glad that she is now well and back at Sycamore.
Q: Tell us about Sycamore resident John and his journey during the pandemic.
On April 7th, John became ill and was moved to the Z Building. The medical Director of the Z Building became concerned about his condition and consulted with John’s doctor who advised that he be sent to the Faulkner Hospital emergency room where he tested positive for COVID-19 and was immediately admitted.
John became critically ill. I tried to contact John’s Uncle to tell him the news but learned he had returned home to Trinidad. I searched on social media and was able to reach him. He informed me that John also had an Aunt nearby to Boston! We had no idea the Aunt existed. I contacted the Aunt and she was eager to learn about John. They had lost touch many years ago.
Q: Did John recover and return to Sycamore?
Fortunately, after more than one month in the hospital, John recovered and was able to return home. The day he came home the Sycamore staff were on the sidewalk waiting to greet him. The car pulled up, John got out and started dancing in the street and was greeted with applause from the staff! John loves to dance and will dance anywhere, anytime!
Q: What was the surprise discovery after John returned home?
We were shocked that when John came home he started talking to everyone! He said “hello” to each person and asked how they were doing! And then he kept on talking, and talking. Prior to his illness John was almost non-verbal! He speaks a lot now!
And now John has his Aunt back in his life. We were pleased to find that he did remember her from many years ago and that now she is in regular contact with him.