INDEPENDENT LIVING: Some good news amidst the COVID-19 crisis

Sarah K. Lanzo

Just about any time you tune in the news, you’re likely to find the broadcast headed by stories from places all over the nation that are facing a return to restrictions because the number of coronavirus infections has increased dramatically. Fortunately, New York state has had a more cautious reopening, and generally speaking, is still taking many precautions, so we’re seeing a limited return to a sort of “normal.” At the risk of being accused of blowing our own horn, I’m proud to say that Independent Living of Niagara County is on the forefront of, again, servicing the community.

All through the past 4-1/2 months, ILNC has continued to serve people with disabilities remotely, by telephone, email, internet meetings, etc.; but thanks to the state entering Phase Four a couple weeks ago, we have limited re-openings of our Niagara Falls office. Yes, I said re-opening! – with conditions, of course. Now, you can’t just stroll in the door, unexpected, and expect to get face-to-face assistance. As we can only have 50% of our staff on site at any one time, not everyone is there every business day; you have to make an appointment in advance with your particular service provider. The day before your appointment, you will be called and asked to respond to a screening questionnaire, and to determine whether you have or will need a face mask. If you can’t reach someone the day before, don’t come in before you confirm it with a staff member, or you may make a trip for nothing.

On arriving, you’ll find that precautions against spread of the virus continue to be our byword, with cautionary signs about procedures in the halls. You should come in wearing your face mask, (or ask for one, if it has been reserved for you). You will answer a few questions about symptoms and exposures — and could be turned away and asked to go to your medical provider. If admitted, you will be asked to wash your hands with soap and water, or use the hand sanitizer provided, and wait to be escorted to the meeting room. Once at the sanitized room, you will sit a six-foot social distance away, separated from your service provider by a clear plexiglass sneeze shield. At the end of your appointment, you will be escorted for another hand cleaning on your way to the door. For some occasions there may be multiple-person meetings in larger rooms, again set up for social distancing, using plexiglass shields for separation. Whenever you are in the office, please refrain from any physical contact, such as shaking hands, hugging, high-fiving, fist-bumping, etc. (Sorry!)

Of course, all these precautions didn’t just happen. We are grateful for local groups and corporations that have donated face masks and personal protective equipment, including two rounds of PPE for consumers and Personal Assistants who provide home care in our Consumer-Directed Personal Assistance Services program. Grants from foundations provided the plexiglass barriers and some other supplies, and ILNC spent about $30,000 on the preparations itself.

While we appreciate community support, we’re helping those outside our walls, with our Independence Express van drivers enabling people to shelter at home with free deliveries of groceries and medications. For those who are feeling the stress of the situation, Mental Health Peer Connection has eight virtual support groups focused on a range of concerns and needs.

You probably have heard that nursing homes and other institutional communal living situations have been hot spots for COVID-19 transmission, such as one in Newfane. But we have a remedy. The staff of our Open Doors program work to find supportive housing, needed services and avenues to living self-sufficiently in the community. You might say that ILNC is your one-stop shop for the needs of the disability community. Check us out at: http://wnyil.org/Independent-Living-Niagara.

Sarah K. Lanzo is the director of Independent Living of Niagara County, a member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. family of agencies that serve individuals with disabilities. For more information, call 284-4131, extension 200.

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