By Maggie Pascucci
Mary Green is a direct support professional (DSP) at Wildwood’s McLean IRA. Jay Benn Golden calls McLean his home. They both faced the uncertainty and turmoil brought into the world by COVID-19...and they faced it together. Mary has supported the four men who live at McLean since September 2016. The past thirteen months added an additional layer to the support she and her co-workers needed to provide the men as they all adapted to the guidelines around health and safety, both within the home and out in the community.
When the pandemic first began in March 2020, Mary’s role expanded to become an informal educator about the coronavirus; explaining why we need to wear masks and social distance, the importance of hand washing and how daily routines needed to change because of the shutdown. Answering the men’s questions and responding to their concerns became an essential part of the job. Mary said that one of the greatest supports she provided was helping them to cope with and adjust to the challenges of a different lifestyle. Day habilitation programs had closed, as had places in the community where they routinely visited, and visits to family members’ homes were put on hold. In conjunction with this support, Mary was incorporating agency and OPWDD guidelines around daily health screenings for both herself and the men at McLean, enhanced cleaning routines and adjusting daily operations to reduce contact; such as limiting the number of people riding in a vehicle.
Jay really felt the loss of his routines. He is a person who thrives on routine, and disruptions can cause him frustration and disappointment. He is very sociable and outgoing, and prior to the pandemic he loved going to the YMCA to swim in the pool; a trip that always included a dip in the hot tub where he’d chat it up with the regulars. Jay is always quick to extend a handshake in greeting others. Jay also loves eating in restaurants and stopping into the local convenience stores to purchase his favorite drinks and snacks. These outings were all highly valued, and their loss had the potential to cause him significant distress.
However, with the support of Mary and the other DSPs at McLean, Jay has demonstrated incredible flexibility in adapting to the necessary changes brought on by COVID-19.
Instead of going out in public and into stores to pick up his favorite meals or beverages, staff would take Jay through the drive thru or pick up items for him to enjoy at home. Because he couldn’t exercise at the YMCA, staff instead encouraged Jay to walk with them at the local outdoor track or around his neighborhood. Jay began using a stationary bike in his home during the cold weather, something he showed great reluctance to do prior to the pandemic. Additionally, while visitor restrictions were put in place, Mary would drive Jay to his family’s home so he could visit with his mom and other family members from a distance. Knowing how much Jay loves to go out and about, they offered him many van rides as a respite from staying home all day. When Jay would ask to do certain activities that were not allowed, staff would provide him alternative options that he found acceptable.
Once some restrictions eased, staff helped Jay shift to new routines, such as only attending his day program in the mornings instead of for a full day. Again, Jay showed flexibility in accepting this change as well responding to the new limitations within his day program. While he misses not being able to go out into the community with his program, he is happy to be able to visit his family in person again, as well as having the ability to access one store in the community on a given day. Jay is really looking forward to when he’ll be able to go to the movie theaters, do volunteer work and eat a meal in a restaurant again. As cases of COVID-19 decline, and as vaccinations continue to be distributed, there is hope for a return to a greater sense of normalcy. For Jay, that will mean not having to wear masks any longer and being able to give out those handshakes again.
Jay says, “the coronavirus is very hard for me,” and while that is certainly true, the support that staff have provided during this period have enabled him to cope with the many challenges he has experienced. Mary anticipated that Jay and his housemates would struggle a lot more with the changes than they actually have. She feels that Jay has shown significant growth in his ability to be flexible, as well as in his empathy towards others. As Mary reflects on this past year and how the men at McLean have coped, she says, “I’m proud of how they’ve handled this. We never thought it’d be a year, and now we’re a year and a bit into it. They have done remarkably better than I ever would have imagined”. While that speaks to the strength and adaptability of Jay and his housemates, it is also a testament to the work that Mary and her co-workers have done to ease the hardships of an incredibly challenging time.