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VIABILITY staff providing essential services amid pandemic; Mission remains top priority

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

When the majority of our offices closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many VIABILITY staffers remained on the front lines providing direct care to the people we serve.

Three VIABILITY staffers recently spoke of how the pandemic has changed their day-to-day operations, presented new challenges and fears, and how they have adjusted their expectations moving forward.

Clarence (left) stands with Community Living Support Professional John Lawson in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Our communities and services have changed, but their commitment has not ...

Community Living Supervisor Diana Larouche assists members in our Community Living program in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Members receive supports for many hours of the day, with some receiving support 24 hours a day. Supports range from providing direct hands on care with transfers or exercises, teaching new skills like making a cup of coffee, or finding enjoyable activities during the stay at home advisory.

Diana and her staff are essential workers and even as physical offices closed, face to face services in our in-home support programs continued — and started to face new challenges with the many changes in the community as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even simple tasks like grocery shopping proved difficult for staff as lines to get into stores were outrageous,” said Diana. She also acknowledged the increased needs of the individuals they serve, “with participants’ anxiety being at an all-time high, staff didn’t want to leave them for such long periods.”

Diana and the Community Living staff recognize that continuing to provide face to face services puts them at a higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19, but know that the needs of their members still need to be met, even during a crisis.

Putting their own fears aside for our members ...

Samantha Duda, Holyoke Community Living Specialist who provides direct support to Deaf and Hard of Hearing members that experience mental health symptoms, said she understands.

“My biggest fear of working during this time is the worry that I may contract the virus. I am often in grocery stores and, although I wear my mask and take precautions, it is always on the back of my mind that I could be in contact with someone who has the virus,” Samantha said. “However, the participants that I work with have needs that need to be met and several of them are high risk. I would much rather contract the virus myself than put them at risk.”

Samantha said she has also spent a significant amount of time reassuring the people we serve, dispelling rumors, and offering guidance as many news outlets and articles online are not entirely accessible to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.

Finding the positive in these changing times ...

Community Living Support Professional John Lawson provides in-home support to members in our Community Living program in Springfield, Massachusetts. Before the state issued a stay at home orders, John and one of the members he provides support to would frequent stores and restaurants, go for walks, attend county fairs, visit museums, and go for the occasional car ride in the country. Now, their trips are limited, but the pair have instead enjoyed take-out meals, movies that can be watched at home, and still go on car rides.

John said he isn’t too worried about contracting the virus as he’s in good health and follows suggested precautions. In fact, he has taken advantage of the empty roads. “I tend to do a lot of driving in Springfield with my client and the traffic is considerably less, which is nice,” he said.

Ensuring the safety of staff, members, and the community ...

VIABILITY’s priority has been to ensure the safety of its members, staff, families, and the community during this crisis. The agency, at all levels, has been working tirelessly to gather resources like masks and other personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, and other supplies to meet members’ basic needs. Staff have access to virtual health services and the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If every employee works collectively following the outline protocols, we will be able to maintain safety for all while providing vital services to our communities. We will continue to be BETTER TOGETHER.