Continuing to Empower During COVID-19

Empower always has been an organization that is adept at change. We have had to do more with less in response to budgetary reductions and regulatory increases. In 2018, we said goodbye to our service coordinators while maintaining communications about people impacted when this service was moved to separate companies due to a perceived conflict of interest. Through it all, Empower has ensured that its operations run smoothly while maintaining a person-centered focus in the fulfillment of our mission to help people to live the lives they choose.

Empower’s response to COVID-19 has been just as seamless. Beginning Sunday, March 15, when a state of emergency was declared in Niagara County, Empower has been proactive and swift in its responses. Our senior leadership team commenced daily meetings to anticipate the pandemic’s impact on our agency and ways we can provide an extra level of care to the people we support to minimize their unease and discomfort. From remote learning in the preschool to redeployment of staff to ensure our residents have sufficient companionship and supports while they are sheltering in place, Empower keeps delivering smooth operations and mission fulfillment.

Contributions by individual staff members have been critical to this effort.  We are highlighting a few, but certainly not all, of the people who took it upon themselves to step up during this crisis. We are grateful for their ingenuity and selflessness in support of the shared purpose of limiting COVID-19’s impact on the people we support.

Having enough personal protective equipment was a challenge faced by Empower from the very beginning of this crisis; it is essential for staff and people supported, who are especially at risk for catching COVID-19 because of having other health issues, to wear masks. Empower Community Housing CSS Sarah Laurrie contacted Community Sourced PPE: Operation Sewing Squad and got over 550 cloth masks, which can be washed and reused, donated to the agency, which has enabled us to ensure our staff and people supported are protected from the virus.  Way to go, Sarah!

The job of a direct support professional (DSP) requires many different skill-sets and there is a lot of information and procedures unique to each resident that have to be mastered quickly. Community Housing CSS Latisha Lowery has always helped new DSPs by taking them under her wing and having them shadow her to ease their transition. This has been especially true during COVID-19 when Latisha has worked beyond her normal hours to ensure DSPs have gained the knowledge and confidence needed to take care of the people that Empower supports. Her positivity and can-do attitude are truly inspiring and we thank her for her efforts.

With the temporary suspension of day programming, residents have had to remain at home during the day, a time when staff are not normally in the houses. This change necessitated day program staff to be redeployed to homes to ensure there are enough staff to care for residents. Job Training & Day Program Activities Coordinator Christina Ryan enthusiastically stepped up, pulling double shifts and supporting people both in homes and quarantine sites with calm, creativity and compassion. Thank you, Christina!

Stepping in when a house manager is on leave is what Community Housing Coordinator of Community Support Services Robin Stevens did, providing stability and fun during an uncertain time. Robin kept house operations running smoothly and helped build morale by organizing new activities like Wacky Hair Wednesdays which gives residents something to look forward to.  Awesome job, Robin!

Filling in at times when staff call in unexpectedly is another critical element to ensuring services for people supported are uninterrupted and that there is sufficient staff coverage. Despite having young children, Community Housing CSS Krystle Brown always volunteers to work when someone calls in, especially during overnight shifts. Her first priority is the people who Empower supports, and we applaud her dedication.

Implementing safety protocols at our homes to ensure people supported and staff stay healthy and safe was something Community Housing Registered Nurse Frank Rice initiated on his own and very early on in the crisis. Based on steps developed by Frank, staff at all sites have their temperatures taken, thoroughly wash their hands and don PPE before coming into contact with the people who Empower supports. Further, they are drilled in keeping the homes sanitized. Thanks to Frank for his initiative.

They say a company is only as good as its people, and that has certainly been true at Empower during COVID-19.  We thank everyone for their commitment and dedication during this crisis.