April 3, 2020

Dear Key family,

The coronavirus pandemic has created unique concerns for caregivers and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).   They are a diverse group of people and have the same risk factors as the general population — those who are older or have compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to the virus.

Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our clients, the staff that works day in and day out to serve them, and the local community that is such a strong supporter of the Key Training Center. We continue to be extra diligent in following directives by AHCA, APD, CDC, Governor, and State/local health agencies to mitigate any spread of disease.  We understand that the virus could spread rapidly among our residents, many of whom have underlying health issues, and thus began taking precautions by frequently sanitizing all facilities with a focus on high-contact surfaces, retraining all direct care personnel on proper handwashing techniques and use of hand sanitizer, implementing daily health screening to all staff and clients, applying social distancing measures, and restricting non-essential staff from all day and residential facilities.

The no-visitors policy is one of the most difficult things we have had to implement. Still, it is necessary not just for the safety of residents but in some cases for their often elderly, vulnerable parents. While residents have been unable to visit with their families and loved ones in person during the isolation process, we have been using technology and phones to stay connected.  All residents are adapting well to the new routines with the help and support of the Key Center’s direct care staff.

We have disrupted our client’s regular routines and activities, and some are struggling to understand this new reality.  For our population, structure is the key to everything.  But now, they’re not going to their day program, or they’re not seeing their families or making that trip to the ice cream parlor.  So far, I have not gotten reports of residents being more “than a little upset” about the changes.  But the longer this goes, the more problems we may have. On a positive note, we have redeployed our day training staff and offering day programs in our homes.  The residents love the daily creative indoor and outdoor activities. We are also working on a virtual day program to help those clients that live at home with their parents or guardians. We are going to lean on technology. It’s the best substitute we have to make up for the lost people-to-people contact.

We understand that in other States where COVID-19 cases are soaring, group home providers are struggling to maintain proper staff-to-resident ratios. So far, our staffing in the homes is steady with the assistance of day services staff filling in shifts. We continue to be actively hiring.  APD is working with providers for emergency measures, including flexibility on staffing ratios to address these extraordinary times.

We are doing our best to isolate our residents from the community.  As these residents rely on caregivers, this task is more difficult as we have staff coming and going to work.  We are working closely with our staff to take social distancing seriously when they are off work. All staff is being required to undergo wellness checks before working and are being asked to self-evaluate and to stay home if they are sick and/or with fever.

Of course, COVID-19 appears to be more contagious than the flu, and there’s no vaccine that raises the stakes and the danger – not just for residents, but for front line staff.   There are many unsung heroes during this time to include the doctors and other healthcare professionals, but some real unsung heroes in our organization are the folks that are working the front lines for direct care.  Everybody is working so diligently to make sure that the clients have the best care that they can be getting for their unique needs.

We know our families who have loved ones in the Key Center homes are concerned.  It is the Key Center’s mission to care for them.  Thus far, no staff or residents have tested positive or shown symptoms of COVID-19. We continue to closely monitor residents for symptoms.  When two residents began showing possible signs, the Key Center took “all necessary precautions” and had the residents tested for the coronavirus resulting in negative cases.  We do continue to have typical instances of the regular flu, sinus, and allergies. Unfortunately, Florida is in the drought season and in need of some good rain to bring down the pollen count.

The situation around the current spread of COVID-19 is changing rapidly, so make sure you stay informed by visiting the CDC’s information page regularly. We care deeply about the well-being of our community, and we urge everyone to follow best practices to stay safe and healthy during this time.  For those that are caring for a loved one with I/DD, it’s important to talk with them about COVID-19 to ensure they have the information they need, but without unnecessarily frightening them.

  • Talk with your loved one before they hear about it elsewhere, so you can understand what they know and provide facts appropriate to their age and understanding.
  • Communicate in a way that your loved one prefers, such as pictures or stories. The attached flu teaching story may be helpful.
  • Allow your loved one to process the information. That may mean they “play out” or talk about fearful topics, but you can be on hand to reassure them and answer questions.
  • Communicate with your support system, including Key Training Center contacts, caregivers and support groups.
  • Be on the lookout for changes in routine or other signs of distress. Your loved one may need additional supports if they are feeling stressed or anxious.
  • Be a source for reassurance and positivity to help your loved one feel safe through frightening situations.

If you have any questions or concerns, please call:

Melissa Walker, Executive Director                           352.795-5541 ext. 203

Theresa Flick, Director of Program Operations         352.795.5541  ext. 224

Barbara Branch, Director of Day Services                352.795.5541  ext.  244

Cole Kiser, Director of Residential Services             352.795.5541  ext.  227

Once again, “WE WILL ALL GET THROUGH COVID -19 TOGETHER”!  Please continue to keep all the Key staff and clients in your prayers, and for our community, that is being impacted by this crisis.

Sincerely,

Melissa Walker

Executive Director

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