In late December 2020 and right into January 2022, the COVID-19 omicron variant walloped J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center’s group homes that house adults with disabilities. While all the adults who live in a Trudeau group home were fully vaccinated and are now doing well, in late December omicron made its presence known in a very big way.
As Rhode Island set new records for COVID-19 cases, our group homes were not spared. There were significant outbreaks with both the residents and staff. Already dealing with a depleted workforce due to the holidays and vacations, management knew they were facing a significant staffing crisis if they didn’t do something quickly. Springing into action, they made an unusual plea to all Trudeau employees to consider taking on shifts to help staff our seven group homes with around-the-clock care, many ripe with COVID-19. As usual, Trudeau employees answered the call.
It Was Not Easy
Exhausted Direct Support Professionals (DSP) worked extra-long hours and staff members who had never worked in a group home signed up to help. Training was quickly and thoroughly conducted, then shifts were quickly assigned. And as seasoned DSPs trained and led employees fresh on the job, something wonderful happened: People worked together to honor Trudeau’s mission to promote an enhanced quality of life for individuals with disabilities. Professional friendships were formed, and we all experienced a renewed vigor for the important work we do.
Pamela Amaral and Amanda Nickerson heeded the call to help with compassion and professionalism. On February 4, I spoke with these two DSPs at Trudeau’s community day program’s recreational center.
Pamela and Amanda typically work in Trudeau’s day program but quickly offered to work in two COVID positive group homes. Each spent two weeks at Centerville, followed by two weeks at Aberdeen, homes with many COVID positive residents. Pamela, who started working at Trudeau in October of 2021, shared, “We did what we had to do, and we just made it work.”
We Got Through It
Behind her mask, Pam’s eyes playfully recall discomfort over the heavy, albeit much appreciated PPE that she dutifully wore, “Helping in the shower was difficult,” said Pam, but “we got through it.” Both chuckled over how drenched in sweat they’d be at the end of every shift.
Unfortunately, Pam did catch COVID, but she was okay after only few days, thanks to her double vaccination and booster status. Now she is back to work for her regularly schedule community day shifts, alongside Amanda.
Amanda Nickerson has worked at Trudeau for eleven years. A seasoned DSP, she thought she’d experienced a lot but, “supporting people with disabilities during a pandemic is a whole new kind of experience!” Amanda came to rely on Pam and peers Anna Landolfi and Jennifer Platt. This fearless foursome was meticulous in caring for the COVID-infected residents while also caring for the COVID-negative folks.
After their shared experience Pam and Amanda are happy to be back to their normal routines of taking adults into the community. On Tuesdays they help clients who deliver Meals on Wheels Rhode Island. On Thursdays, they support clients who deliver the Warwick Beacon, and on Wednesdays the crew fits in some bowling at AMF Bowling.
Inspired to Help
Meghan Berard is a revered educator in Trudeau’s Home-Based Children’s Services (HBCS), and she immediately signed up for shifts at the Centerville group home,
“I was inspired to work in a group home during increased cases of COVID so that I could be where I was needed most,” Meghan shared. “I won’t let this pandemic or those afflicted prevent me from helping. It’s important to support individuals with disabilities, especially in such uncertain times.”
On New Year’s Day, Meghan showed up to work alongside fellow newbie Kathleen Layton of Trudeau’s development department. Both worked from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. and were delighted by their shared experience. Meghan and Kathleen made and served food, worked on art projects with residents, and even managed to squeeze in some IT assistance. As Meghan and Kathleen talked with residents about New Year’s resolutions, managers were freed up to administer medications and tend to the clients who were battling COVID-19 — while keeping them safely isolated.
Heroism Over the Holidays
From Administration-to-HBCS, from Early Intervention-to-Pathways, Trudeau employees showed up and made a difference.
Kimberly Ruelle, Human Resources Manager, put her expert people skills to great use while Robin Lombari, Accounts Payable, proved that she is almost as good at supporting people with disabilities as she is at numbers! Pathways Behavior Technician Danielle Bomzer was a natural who was adored by residents. Joy Pizarro, our Pathways school nurse, shared her invaluable skills and bedside manner. And Karen Johannes of Early Intervention was such a professional that she has continued to pick up group home shifts, much to the delight of the residents.
“I am grateful for the teamwork, selflessness and genuine heroism of the Trudeau employees over the holidays,” Trudeau President and CEO Judith Sullivan said.
“Their sacrifices truly made a tremendous difference and I applaud them for their immediate response to those in need. Everyone at the Trudeau Center takes their responsibilities seriously and it was wonderful to see the team come together. It’s a bonus that so many wonderful friendships were formed and people gained even greater appreciation for the work being done. Bravo to all who stepped up. Crisis averted!”
Trudeau is one of the area’s leading providers of services for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Please consider donating today.