CIRCLEVILLE — An often forgotten demographic, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the clients of the Pickaway County Board of Developmental Disabilities in 2020.
Marie Wilbanks, director of service and support administration for the Pickaway County Board of Developmental Disabilities, shared some of the things she and her fellow employees of the organization have experienced. As of Friday, there have been 989 community members who have tested positive. There are 248 active resident cases with 14 hospitalized. There have been 12 community deaths.
“As the autumn surge of COVID-19 cases continues to rise and numbers of positive cases tick upward across Ohio, our community of people with developmental disabilities is not let untouched,” Wilbanks said. “Since the beginning of the outbreak, it has felt as if this virus knows how to find our most vulnerable. It has found our medically compromised; including those with co-occurring risk factors live diabetes, a compromised respiratory system, and cancer. It has almost exclusively found our oldest service recipients – people who, until this generation, were expected to have shorter lifespans by virtue of having a developmental disability. Within the last few weeks, the pandemic has taken our oldest client – a woman who, until she contracted COVID-19 through someone providing in-home care, was healthy, spunky, deeply religious and who lived for her dog and cat. We are devastated by her loss.”
Wilbanks shared the news that there’s an outbreak inside the home of some of their most fragile clients.
“The group of women who live in this home are in their 70s and have a host of medically complicating factors that will put them at extremely high risk,” she said. “ As with the other positive cases so far, we will spring into action and try to provide the safest, most thorough care possible. These women require extensive hands-on assistance, which necessitates that their providers give intimate, close-contact care. In order to provide appropriate support within this home, multiple staff work shifts, coming in and out of the shared space. These women are cognitively unable to process the pandemic and struggle to tolerate having a mask placed on their face. All of these factors put both providers and service recipients at high risk for spread and infection.”
Mike Pelcic, executive director, said the most important thing for them and the population they serve is to get the virus under control and for everyone to do their part.
“[Ohio Governor Mike] DeWine and our health experts are saying that we need to beat the virus and take it seriously,” he said. “The people we serve are more vouneralbe to severe illness and may have underlining health issues. Our mission is to protect these people’s health, safety and wellbeing and they’ve really been impacted.”
Pelcic said like many people who lost their jobs during the pandemic, many of those they work to get employed fell in the same situation.
“Those that were employed lost their jobs, were laid off or furloughed at the beginning of the pandemic,” he said. “Some have gone back to work and some haven’t.”
Pelcic said due to the nature of how they’re providing services, things have gone more in-home.
“We have our day services for adults have been shut down since march and have yet to reopen,” he said. “Things have shifted gears and we’re supporting people in their homes. Residential support has increased to make up for the lack of service in the community.”
Wilbanks called those working in the homes heroes.
“Until everyone in the home is medically cleared, they will provide the already strenuous hands-on care for these sick people, all while wearing head-to-toe PPE,” she said. “They will risk their own health and the health of their families to work this extremely difficult job that typically pays just over minimum wage. If any of them become ill, the remaining staff may be required to work much longer shifts, which quickly becomes physically and emotionally draining.”
Wilbanks said she can’t believe that some people are disregarding health recommendations.
“It was with hurt and dread that we watched people attend large outdoor gatherings, largely without masks,” she said. “Witnessing the most basic safety precautions we can collectively take dismissed for political purposes was sobering.
This is a loving, supportive and warm community that values taking care of each other. Perhaps we just need reminded: failing to exercise basic health precautions is not a victimless act. It creates a ripple of illness that attacks our most vulnerable citizens.
Wilbanks asked that others help the board protect their clients.
“On behalf of the Pickaway County Board of Developmental Disabilities, we ask that you support and protect each other,” she said. “We need you to take care of us.”
Pelcic echoed Wilbanks comment.
“As much as we want to believe its’ not going to affect us or it’s not as bad as it seems for our population it is,” he said. “Much like the precautions in nursing homes, in some settings this is real and scary. We all need to do our part to prevent people from getting sick.”