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IDD citizens coping with COVID-19 limits

For some adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, the spread of COVID-19 in Mississippi means limited contact with family and friends and uncomfortable changes in routine.

Many residents at Bridgeway Apartments, a residential program for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities, are home from work due to the current pandemic.

Resident Robbie Jones, who has lived in the apartments for 14 years, is enjoying the break from work.

“It’s been like a vacation. We’ve been working all our lives. I’ve been staying home and playing my fun simulator game and everything,” said Jones.

Although no visitors are allowed at the facility unless absolutely required, some residents are still going to work, said Director Jason Kirkland. Of the 24 residents in the Picayune facility, 22 have jobs. The program works with more than 20 businesses, but currently fewer than ten of those still have residents coming to work. All of the residents at a Gulfport facility also run by St. Francis Community Services are home from work, said Kirkland.

To protect residents from COVID-19, the facility is educating residents daily on the virus and the precautionary steps they should take, like hand washing and social distancing.

Both facilities have aging populations, with many residents older than 60, said Kirkland.

The facility is checking the temperatures of residents and staff daily and trying to prevent anyone with the virus from coming into the facility, said Kirkland. Group activities have been limited. Wellness coordinator Stepheny Batcho said the exercise room has been closed down, and instead staff are trying to get residents to stay healthy by engaging in activities that allow for social distancing, like ballgames or cornhole.

Jones said residents are doing fine with the adjustments.

“We got Jesus in our heart, and we play games outside, and we’ve had to stay six feet apart,” he said.

Changes in routine can be challenging for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities, said ARC of Pearl River County President Susette Morrow. Many people with developmental or intellectual disabilities are visual thinkers, said Morrow.

“You can’t see this, so you don’t understand how bad it is,” she said.

The hardest change for Jones is the limitation on visitors, although he still speaks with his mother and brother on the phone everyday.

As the mother of a disabled son, Morrow has also found it challenging to have to limit physical contact with her son.

“It’s heartbreaking for both my husband and I to listen to him. He facetimes us,” said Morrow.

The family used to spend every weekend together, including going to Sunday church service.

“All the normalcy that we had in our lives is gone. Kids with autism, they thrive on a schedule. When that schedule’s broken, they don’t know how to act,” said Morrow.

The changes are also having an economic impact on Bridgeway’s program and on its residents, said Kirkland. With residents home from work, the income from their jobs can no longer go toward bills like utilities and rent. While residents do receive social security income, most also have part time jobs, so they do not have paid time off or benefits, said Kirkland.

The facility provides job support services to residents that are billed to Medicaid, but with most residents home from work, the program loses supportive employment funding, said Kirkland.

Some worried families have also taken residents out of the facility to live at home during the pandemic, which reduces revenue for the facility. The organization is hopeful that the federal government will consider giving some stimulus money to nonprofit organizations, Kirkland said.

“Our organization is committed to do whatever it takes to get through this,” said Kirkland. “As long as there are residents, there’s not going to be as big an impact, unless every resident leaves our facility. If we had an outbreak in our facility and staff had to self quarantine then we would be in a crisis here and we would have to find placement for residents unless we had staff coverage.”

Still, Kirkland is optimistic and said the program has received a lot of community support and support from its corporate office.