By Sharmaine Palmer, RN
At Jewish Community Services, we are committed to providing the services, support, and resources that empower individuals with disabilities to grow, learn, work, and participate fully in community life. One important service involves helping at-home clients stay on track with their medical and nursing needs. For many this includes attending doctor’s appointments and advocating for care; setting up medication regimens, ensuring everything is ordered on time and with enough to last as needed; arranging flu shots at home; coordinating ambulance transportation; and assisting with g-tubes, catherization, and bowel care.
When COVID came along, we had to change the way in which we did almost everything – from providing virtual care to advocating with doctors to shopping for necessities, even walking dogs. In addition, we challenged families to meet their own needs with our support.
I was happy to see that some clients and family members were able to attend to matters with determination and creativity. Family members who were not involved before became more involved and this was to the client’s advantage to have more family connections. For example, we had a client who required a catheter change every 5 weeks. Due to COVID restrictions and the client’s wishes, outside visitors were not encouraged in the home. Eventually, a boarder who lives in the client’s home rose to the occasion and learned how to do this procedure. She was given advice over the phone and she calls us for guidance whenever there is an issue. The task has since been completed many times and the client and boarder are happy to continue with this arrangement.
Another COVID challenge was keeping everyone safe from a distance. Almost all our clients had difficulty with wearing masks and adhering to infection control procedures. To make it easier, we held trainings for clients and families on how and why to wear masks, staff role modeled the proper way to wear masks, and we used face shields as an addition when necessary.
To keep safe distances, our direct care workers held Zoom meetings with clients. Some were really creative: watching movies together, exercising, chatting, and even helping clients with cooking meals. Even with these efforts, many clients were very affected by the lack of social interaction and a number have suffered from lack of exercise; client muscle tone and ambulation in some cases have really impacted the clients and a number have gained weight.
When it came to doctor’s appointments, speech therapists, and other therapists, Zoom was a difficult and not always successful option. Unfortunately, as a result, some clients are very behind in blood work, appointments, mammograms, colonoscopies, podiatrist care, dental care, etc.
But some good has come out of this roller coaster – families and clients trying to stay healthy as they learn to lean on each other and other supports and even getting their staff more involved in their health needs.
At this phase, we are encouraging this increased participation by clients and families in their medical care and we are continuing to move clients toward more self-sufficiency. We emphasize the necessity for routine checkups as we continue to deal with the pandemic and its aftermath. We know that clients will need a lot of encouragement to become socially active again and like all of us, it’s a learning curve to adjust to the new norm. But together, with support, we will adjust.
Sharmaine Palmer, RN is a Registered Nurse with Support Services for Individuals with Disabilities at Jewish Community Services
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.