Here is a COVID-19 Update and Message to Families, Guardians, & DDS Community from Commissioner Jane F. Ryder:
Greetings to Parents, Guardians, and Friends:
During the period of time since the onset of the COVID 19 Pandemic, there have been a lot of changes within the Life-Skills, Inc. program structure.
Looking back to March, we closed all of the day habilitation programs. Staff in some cases began to provide services to individuals residing in our homes who were no longer able to follow their normal routines of preparing for work, or attending day habilitation programs. Staff were faced with providing enrichment and fulfilling opportunities within the home.
It was compounded further by a lock down of the homes. I realize that this created a significant level of stress for all of you because you could no longer have in-person visitation. Face Time became the virtual method of establishing contact. All of our residential facilities use and assist our individuals with maintaining contact using Chrome-Books furnished by the Department of Developmental Services.
We have purchased and continue to purchase face shields, gowns, masks, and disposable gloves. We received additional donations of masks, face shields, and goggles from local industries and service organizations. Some staff made cloth face masks that could be washed and re-used, guaranteeing safety and protection for the wearer and the individual.
Two of our day habilitation programs were converted for use as isolation centers for individuals who tested positive for the virus.
In September the Executive Office of Health and Human Services instituted Surveillance test protocols that mandated that all residential staff be tested, including managers, staff who enter the programs regularly such as Speech Therapists, Nursing, Maintenance, and all direct care professionals. Life-Skills, Inc. chose to have our residential nursing staff administer the tests. Life-Skills, Inc. contracted with AMMON Labs to supply the test kits and to analyze the results. These reports were then submitted to the Department of Developmental Services and to EOHHS.
This reporting was/is instrumental in tracking the number of positive cases within specific geographic areas as well as with specific providers. On October 1, testing protocols were instituted that include the testing of all residential programs in non-hot spot areas to 50% of staff being tested every two weeks on an alternating basis. This will allow Life-Skills, Inc. to test 100% of staff involved in residential services a minimum of once per month.
Programs located in Hot Spot areas, (Hot Spot being defined as an area having a COVID-19 transmission rate of 5% or greater), will undergo 100% testing on a weekly basis. Ms. Lisa Morgan, Director of Quality Assurance, is checking the state website weekly to ensure that our administrative staff and program level staff know when and if any program operated by Life-Skills, Inc. is in a “Hot Spot” area.
In order to provide you with the steps that Life-Skills, Inc. is taking to ensure everyone in our programs is provided with the optimum level of safety, we are following the guidelines put in place by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control. They include the following:
- Entry protocols are followed at all residences, our main office and all day hab programs. Temperature taking is included at all residences and day habilitation programs.
- Masks are a mandatory requirement across all Life-Skills, Inc. programs. KN-95/N-95 masks and full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), is required when a COVID case is suspected or confirmed in a day or residential setting.
- We ensure that social distancing occurs to the greatest extent possible in all programs and offices.
- Our PPE inventory is constantly monitored and replenished with masks, face shields, gloves, gowns, shoe and hair coverings.
- We ensure that staff traveling from program to program is minimized and ceases completely in the event that a residence is experiencing a COVID positive case.
- We ensure that all staff and affected individuals are quarantined immediately upon discovery of a positive case. Staff quarantine at home and individuals quarantine in their bedrooms at their respective home and are encouraged to wear a mask while in common areas.
- Any program where there is a positive case will immediately go into a “no visitation” status and will remain in that status until all test results are negative and quarantine period has ended.
- Notifications of a positive case is immediately reported to families and guardians for any individual exposed to COVID or who has tested positive.
- The Department of Developmental Services, Department of Medical Assistance Office of Long-Term Care and Support, and the local Boards of Health receive notice of positive cases.
- Families are apprised of the visitation protocols and guidelines and enforcement guidelines surrounding attestation of travel, exposure, etc. Please contact the program manager of your loved one’s home for the latest guidelines and/or changes prior to visiting.
- Based upon current increases across the State of Massachusetts it may be necessary to restrict visitation in the residences and to request that individuals who leave for the upcoming Thanksgiving or Christmas Holidays be tested prior to returning to the residential facility. We will provide notice to you when and if these restrictions need to be put into place.
- Currently, we are testing 50% of our residential staff every 2 weeks, per the Residential and Congregate Care Program Surveillance Guidance put forth by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Everyone entering a residence on a regular or semi-regular basis is tested. Residential nursing staff are conducting the testing. The test results from AMMON Labs is monitored on a 24/7 basis.
- We observe and enforce the MA travel restrictions for all Life-Skills, Inc. staff and have included travel questions on our entry protocols.
- Upon notification of a positive COVID test result in a house or day program, all staff and individuals are tested by our nursing staff or by an outside resource.
- Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines are followed throughout the period of positive infection using active quarantine and isolation procedures.
- All staff and individuals are informed of the pro-active steps used to prevent the onset of the COVID virus. This includes how to properly use the Personal Protective Equipment, personal hygiene practices, and the disinfecting of programming areas. These practices are addressed at orientation for new staff, and at the residential and day programs.
It is our hope that all of the precautions will result in the maintenance of good health and a resumption of normalcy within Life-Skills, Inc., the local communities, and across the state. Until we are assured of a vaccine that will provide immunity from the virus, we must all do our part to protect ourselves and those we love and care for.
I hope that all of you remain safe and healthy.
Thomas Amick, CEO
Chief Executive Officer
*New COVID-19 Travel Orders* – https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-travel-order
Effective August 1, 2020, all visitors and returning residents entering Massachusetts must follow new travel orders. The Commonwealth has made great progress to slow the spread of COVID-19 and gradually re-open the economy, and all visitors have a responsibility to help keep transmission levels as low as possible.
We have updated our Life-Skills, Inc. Visitor Screening Forms to reflect these changes, and will be working closely with our employees and visitors to adjust to these new requirements upon return to the state and re-entry in to our programs.