Commemorating This Somber Anniversary

Today marks the one-year anniversary of COVID 19 taking over life as we knew it.  It was on March 11 one year ago, that a global pandemic was declared and MAB began closing down programs, wearing masks and PPE, ending home visits, sending home staff who could work remotely,  and not allowing visitors into our programs.  And while there are hopeful signs that vaccinations will lead to herd immunity, it will be a while before we get there.   And though deaths will hopefully continue to decline, many of us wonder whether we’ll ever feel comfortable going to a movie theatre or squeezing onto an Orange Line car again.

So while the one year anniversary doesn’t mark the end of the pandemic, it is an appropriate time to remember those we lost and to honor those who rose to the occasion and persevered,  staff who did what needed to be done, day after day, despite the paralyzing fear of becoming sick and infecting loved ones.  It’s also time to recognize the leadership provided by staff who not only figured out how to adapt to new conditions in order to continue meeting the needs of our participants, but who identified the new needs caused by the pandemic that needed to be addressed as well.

This has been a Plague Year.  More than 180 MAB staff and participants were infected with the virus, including more than 40% of the ADS direct care staff.  Many were hospitalized.  Five staff and participants died.

Remembering Those We Lost

We lost some of our most beloved participants, individuals who have been part of our lives for years.  They were an important part of the MAB family.  We will always remember them.

Stuart Straus, who loved Chinese food and had a girlfriend he visited on the weekends when he could get a ride.  Stuart loved going to church and speaking in tongues.

Donnie Nicholson who could take anything apart and put it back together again.  Donnie loved riding in the motorboat with his family and feeling the wind on his face.

Charlie Mellen who loved going to the Dimock dances with Grace and giving the double peace sign, to everyone he passed, his arms upraised, like a victorious general.

Richie Roberts who had a world-class collection of vintage vinyl, Be- Bop-a-Lula, and I Wanna Hold Your Hand.  Richie was a member of the original group of eight men who moved out of Fernald into MAB’s first group home in 1973 and traveled to Washington to meet members of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation.

Many staff and their family members suffered terribly with COVID 19.  We are thankful that more didn’t die. But Maxo Joseph’s death in April was a painful blow to all of us who knew him.  Maxo was a direct care staff for 19 years. He continuously turned down management opportunities because he loved caring for the guys at West Milton best. And of course, he took care of his elderly mother, keeping her at home though her dementia had changed her utterly.  He loved cooking for the guys and wouldn’t let anyone butt in.  He perennially won the best cooking award at the staff picnic, garnishing his Haitian dishes with miniature plastic palm trees.

Thank you to All who Persevered

The stories of how staff persevered in the wake of this scourge are awe-inspiring.  It was like living through the London blitz.  So many people were sick in our group homes that staff worked ten hours a day to keep people alive.  The staff made PPE by hand when none could be found. One res counselor wore her graduation gown, another used a shower curtain.   Staff in group homes struggled to stay safe while spoon-feeding sick participants, bathing them, and changing their diapers.  We are deeply grateful for the Residential Coordinators who kept houses running when half the staff was sick and the other half were too afraid to come into work.  How can we adequately thank the Program Support Director who moved into one of his group homes for four days, taking care of all the participants by himself, because all the staff was sick?  We thank every one of our direct care staff who got up every day and came to work, donning their PPE with care, despite worrying about becoming sick, infecting their co-workers, students, and participants, or bringing the virus home to their families.  And to our nursing teams who were stretched so thin,  developing new protocols to help keep everyone safe, ensuring that each program had an adequate supply of oximeters and thermometers, as well as trying to manage so many sick patients in our group homes.  And a special thanks to our clinicians, having to support staff, students, and participants deal with sickness and death all around them, the stress of being in lockdown, and not being able to see their families.

Re-Inventing How Everything Was Done

We are so grateful for the staff who had to re-invent how to do everything.   To the staff who centralized the purchase of groceries and supplies to keep staff out of densely trafficked supermarkets.  Staff who had to figure out how to do their work remotely–developing on-line orientation for new staff, getting approval to provide OT services through telehealth, and accelerating the roll-out of our Learning Management System so staff could be trained remotely.  To MABVI’s Assistive Technology staff who learned to train blind and visually impaired individuals over the phone—who could have imagined it?  To the MABVI staff who broke down geographical barriers in our volunteer program by training new volunteers on-line.  To the teachers who had to learn to teach a class of students, some of whom were at home and others in person; learning to juggle both, like catching balls tossed in the air, while spinning rings on a rod clenched in your teeth.  To the ADS day program staff who developed remote programming for participants confined to their homes and others who pitched in to staff group homes, now operating 24/7.  To the Hygiene Heroes who made sure each room at Ivy Street was fully equipped with everything needed to keep it disinfected

An Opportunity to Excel

We are in awe of our staff who used this crisis as an opportunity to excel.   Staff who become world-class dealers in procuring PPE from remote corners of the world when none could be found locally.  Development staff who scrambled to get COVID related emergency grants and actually increased fundraising beyond our goal for the year.  And our finance staff who secured a $3.5M PPP loan, allowing us to not lay anyone off, despite their inability to generate the operating revenue that normally would fund them.

Added Burdens

And a special thanks to the staff who had to endure colossal inconvenience to get their work done. To the staff who worked out of their cars, driving to neighborhoods with better cell phone coverage.  To the staff who worked out of closets, managing programs, providing therapy, teaching– selecting attractive background filters to obfuscate the fact that they were working in a closet.  To the staff who worked while their children made guest appearances as extras on Teams.

A New Job on Top of Your Regular Job

For many staff, COVID 19 demanded that they take on the responsibilities of a second MAB job, on top of the one they were hired for, and also had to continue.  We are greatly in your debt.  Staff who developed surveillance testing systems to monitor infection early on and managed to get testing kits out to all our far-flung locations.  The HR staff who reached out to countless employees to make sure that all staff with a COVID-related absence received full benefits provided under the Federal Families first Coronavirus Response Act.  To the members of the Leadership Teams at Ivy Street, ADS, and MABVI, who tirelessly devoted their lives to managing this crisis, meeting morning and night, seven days a week, at the peak of the pandemic, to make sure we swiftly took action to do the right thing.    To our IT staff who made sure every student had a computer at home to continue their schooling remotely, and who developed a health screening app to make it easy to monitor for COVID symptoms..  To our maintenance crew who continuously reconfigured the school, pitching tents outside, installing plexiglass protective screens.

A Time for Innovation

And then there is the staff who were able to think outside the box, who was able to come up with innovative responses to this emergency.  We are deeply grateful to the staff who helped us pivot in brilliant ways. To the MABVI staff who while shutting down in-person programs realized how isolated blind seniors were, unable to get food and medicine now that their support systems were disrupted.  And overnight the staff organized an effort to contact all 1600 participants and connect them up with services to meet their needs.

And the MABVI staff who upon hearing about the problems people were having getting vaccinated, reached out to the City of Boston to create special supports for individuals who are visually impaired, using our volunteers to help them register for vaccinations online and take them to the Reggie Lewis Center for vaccinations.

To the ADS staff who researched surveillance testing and quickly found the saliva test to be the most efficient way to proceed, and then managed the thousands of logistics to successfully implement it.

To our Board Members who partnered with area restaurants to give our sequestered group home staff a break and show them how much we appreciate their work, by delivering meals to them once a week.

To the Ivy Street staff who figured out a way to have our students go home safely for the holidays after not seeing their parents for months.  Who worked with our can-do buildings crew to rent mobile offices for the parking lot and to move staff off the first floor, moving students in and out of quarantine as they returned home from visiting home for the first time in months.

Thank you

How can we thank you enough?  How can we thank you for your commitment to the work, your resilience in the face of crisis?  How can we ever thank you enough for the risk you took coming in to work each day?  How can we thank you for your creativity and innovation when it was most needed?  I hope our shared experience of this year will bring us closer together and make us stronger.  I am so proud of all you’ve done.

Thank you.

Barbara Salisbury

Chief Executive Officer

MAB Community Services

Adult Disability Services

Ivy Street School

Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired