Community Living Elgin continues in pandemic

·3 min read

Community Living Elgin has seen a steady demand for its services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while some of its programs remain essentially the same, others have been altered in response.

The St. Thomas-based registered charity provides various services to empower people with developmental disabilities, including residential supports, day programs, group and supported living, respite services, family support, and an Ontario Early Years Centre (0-6).

Community Access Programs (CAP) are hosted in both Aylmer and St. Thomas. The Aylmer CAP provides an opportunity for people to drop in, interact with peers, and learn new skills.

Community Living Elgin Executive Director Michelle Palmer said CAPs continue to run with a maximum of 10 people at a time, subject to provincial rules. The Aylmer CAP has eight people supported with two staff.

“Depending on the people in the group, they may have particular things they would like to participate in, and we would make sure that’s being offered,” said Ms. Palmer. “We may introduce new things to try different activities, and see if people like those.”

Some examples include cooking classes, arts and crafts, or creating items to sell. In pre-pandemic years, members in the CAP group would interact with the rest of the community more frequently.

“If we had more people who wanted to come back to Aylmer, we could open a second cohort there because we have the physical space to allow that,” said Ms. Palmer. “But right now, we’ve been able to meet the community needs within our one cohort.”

The St. Thomas CAP typically teaches classes such as home safety, life facts, communication, social media, bowling, cooking, computers, technology, leisure activities, as well as educational and social skills. Day supports are also offered in West Elgin for a small group.

During the start of the pandemic and provincial shutdowns in March 2020, the day programs were shut down entirely to focus on residential supports. Community Living Elgin has 18 group living homes. While the amount of people per home varies, there are about three on average.

All housing support applications are flowed through a central point of access for Elgin and Oxford – Developmental Service Ontario and are selected based on eligibility and priority. Ms. Palmer said there was a “very long waitlist” across the entire province for people looking for residential supports.

“When somebody comes into service, they would stay in service for life. That’s a real focus for us is that it’s people’s homes,” explained Ms. Palmer. “Quite frequently, vacancies end up being the result of death in most cases, or the odd person may have to move out.”

Community Living Elgin has about 200 staff members, with that number frequently varying. Staff wear face masks and follow infection prevention and control procedures. Ms. Palmer said the organization did not need to implement any layoffs throughout the entire pandemic.

“Our staff are exceptional,” she said. “Their commitment to the people they provide support to has not varied for a second, even though it’s a scary time to be working at a job where you’re providing close personal care to people.”

Staff are not permitted to work in another developmental service organization in congregate care to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. For instance, if a staff member had a job at two different Community Living organizations, they would have to choose just one location to work.

Some staff are currently on leave as a result, and they are not permitted to return until emergency orders are lifted. Staff members are also not allowed to work at a long-term care home or retirement home while working at Community Living Elgin.

“I’m incredibly proud that we’ve been this successful and that our employees have stuck by our side, and they’ve stuck by the people supported side the entire way through,” said Ms. Palmer.

Veronica Reiner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express