ANDOVER, Mass., April 21, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- As Melmark New England staff continue their mission-first work with children and adults with autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities and other diagnoses, inspiring stories are emerging. Much like what we are witnessing throughout the country, we are seeing the best in people emerge as we work together to follow the CDC's guidelines to help slow the spread of COVID-19. While there are many stories to share, one story from a Melmark New England Residence is particularly of interest.
On March 25, 2020, Melmark New England leadership was notified that a staff member who worked in a Melmark residence in Dracut, Massachusetts had tested positive for COVID-19. The staff was tested after work and had unknowingly exposed students and other staff in the residence. In working through quarantine scenarios, leadership members quickly determined that sending all 13 staff who were exposed to their own homes to quarantine would cause a significant residential workforce depletion. To ensure the students had a full continuum of services, Melmark President and CEO Rita Gardner and Melmark New England Executive Director Helena Maguire devised a plan to ask staff to consider quarantining together at the group home.
With eight days remaining to quarantine since the initial contact exposure to the infected staff, employees in the Dracut home were asked if they would remain in the home, continuing their mission-first care for the students inside, for eight full days. Eight of the staff volunteered to quarantine with the students. Over the next eight days, staff kept check of one another's health status, as well as that of the students in the house, by performing symptom screenings every two hours. Leadership and healthcare staff assisted via phone and video conferencing to limit any additional exposure.
Melmark's parent community delivered hot meals and treats to the steps of the house and decorated the front door with messages of thanks. On the final day of the quarantine, parents coordinated a car parade and lawn celebration. Remaining cognizant of social distancing guidelines, they greeted the dedicated staff members as they emerged from the Melmark New England residence, holding signs and applauding. Melmark New England Executive Director Helena Maguire spoke into a bullhorn to make sure staff heard loud and clear how appreciative leadership and families were. As Maguire referred to the staff as "heroes", parents cheered loudly from the front lawn and from their vehicles.
Kim Duhanyan, Melmark New England Senior Director of Residential Services, talked about the positivity and support each of the self-proclaimed "quarantine crew" emanated. "The level of commitment to Melmark's mission of the eight staff members who made the decision to leave their own children and families to keep our children safe through this process is honorable," said Duhanyan.
Melmark President and CEO Rita M. Gardner, M.P.H., LABA, BCBA, talked about how Melmark's 'invisible workforce' rose to the occasion amidst the ongoing pandemic. "Our staff are very rarely recognized publicly for their life-sustaining work, but we witness it every day," said Gardner. "They are providing services to individuals who present with significant health and behavioral complexity on a daily basis," added Gardner. "I believe the fact that we deal with that kind of complexity has made us uniquely skilled to serve through the COVID-19 crisis." Gardner added that she has never been prouder of Melmark's workforce, which is still at work every day. "This remarkable community simply represents the best in the special education and disability services continuum as we continue, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, to support some of the Commonwealth's most vulnerable individuals and their families."
Melmark is a not-for-profit organization providing clinically-sophisticated evidence-based special education, residential, vocational and therapeutic services for children and adults with autism spectrum disorders, developmental and intellectual disabilities, acquired brain injuries and other neurological and genetic disorders. Since the start of the pandemic, Melmark has closed all day programs at its service divisions in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. Residential programs have remained open, with visitation and community outings halted to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Recognized as one of the leading providers in the country, Melmark has a combined staff of over 1,200 at its service divisions in New England, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas and serves 1,000 individuals from across the country. To learn more, visit www.melmark.org.
SOURCE Melmark New England