Home Bensalem Times Community Options pivots during COVID for clients with disabilities

Community Options pivots during COVID for clients with disabilities

The agency, locally headquartered in Feasterville, got creative with Zoom activities and outdoor trips

Promoting independence: Community Options, based at 950 Pennsylvania Boulevard in Feasterville-Trevose, helps clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities find employment, live on their own and more. Source: Heather Pollack

Throughout Lower Bucks County, individuals 18 and older who are diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities can enjoy the typical aspects of life, such as living in their own home and having employment, thanks to support from Community Options.

The nationwide agency, which boasts a local office at 950 Pennsylvania Boulevard in Feasterville-Trevose, serves thousands with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida and Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as mental health conditions such as Seizure Disorder, Pica, Diabetes, Mood Disorders and Schizoaffective Disorders.

Currently, Community Options operates 17 licensed Community Living Arrangements in Bensalem, Feasterville, Levittown, Yardley, Southampton and Morrisville.

“We buy or rent houses in neighborhoods like you or I live in, and we open up these homes to either one or two individuals depending on that person’s level of need. We usually match the individuals up based on who we think is going to live cohesively together,” said regional director Heather Pollack. “The neighbors are welcoming of us.”

Clients in the CLAs receive 24/7 direct support from Community Options staff, who have 8-hour rotating shifts. This, said Pollack, proved to be a challenge when COVID-19 struck last year.

“There’s a lot of people coming in and out of the house on any given day, which of course is not ideal in COVID times, which makes us a high-risk population,” she said. “Just like everyone else, we had no idea what to do. We had employees scared to death to come to work. We had clients that can’t tolerate wearing a mask. We had doctors canceling necessary appointments.”

COVID-19 affected several homes and resulted in one death. However, Pollack reflected on how the agency pivoted to protect clients and provide incentives for staff members.

“For the homes that became COVID-positive, there may have been only one employee willing to work at that home. So that employee basically moved into the house for two weeks. We were providing breakfast, lunch, dinner. We were making sure that full PPE was in the house,” said Pollack. “We even went so far as to provide baby monitors and set them up at the steps so that the employee working could see if one of the individuals who was positive was coming out of the bedroom. They’d say, ‘What do you need? I’ll get it for you.’”

Additionally, for any staff members fearful of bringing the virus home to their families, they had the option of sleeping on a cot set up in the home.

Currently, Pollack happily shared that there are no positive cases among clients, who, along with staff members, were invited to attend one-of-three vaccine clinics offered in January thanks to a contract with CVS. Almost 100 percent of clients got vaccinated. There is an incentive of a $500 bonus for employees who get vaccinated by Nov. 30.

Staying safe: When COVID-19 hit, Community Options had to get creative in order to support clients, who were used to getting out and volunteering, hitting the gym and other activities. Source: Heather Pollack

Pollack shared how happy clients are that things are getting back to normal. Prior to the virus, they volunteered in the community, hit the gym, visited local stores and earned jobs at Denny’s, NorthTec in Bristol, HomeGoods and other locations. These services, including resume building and job searching, are available to adults with intellectual disabilities even if they don’t reside in one of Community Options’ CLAs.

When the pandemic began, there was much concern over how high-risk individuals would cope with not being able to do their favorite things. Many relied on the gym or shopping as an outlet. In order to keep them engaged with others, Community Options hosted regular company-wide Zoom activities, including cooking classes, fitness classes, and arts and crafts.

“They got to meet people over Zoom in Texas or New Mexico,” said Pollack. “It was really cool that there was still some sort of camaraderie even though no one could really go anywhere.”
Eventually, staff began planning safe outdoor trips to the park, waterfronts and Shady Brook Farm. These outings were ideal for clients who were unable to tolerate wearing a mask.

Community Options is always looking for new clients, staff and locations for CLAs in the region. Services are free for clients who have the Pennsylvania Consolidated Waiver. Those interested can visit comop.org or contact Pollack directly at 215-284-2098 or Heather.Pollack@comop.org.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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