‘Trying Not to Panic:' COVID-19 Cases Soar in Resource-Strapped NY Group Homes

Hundreds of masks, goggles, gowns and gloves were delivered to group homes after NBC 4 reported residents stuck in hospitals past the point of medical discharge

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Coronavirus cases are soaring inside New York’s group homes for the developmentally delayed, with workers scrambling to maintain proper staffing ratios for their high need residents, who cannot comprehend the rules of social distancing.  

“We’re struggling,” says Libby Traynor, executive director of the non profit AABR, which has a state contract to operate 22 group homes for about 200 autistic and intellectually disabled adults in the five boroughs. "I just got the spreadsheet and it was lit up like a Christmas tree with the positive diagnoses."

As of Friday afternoon, 55 residents and 29 employees had tested positive at AABR homes for adults. Thirteen are currently hospitalized, including two in critical condition.

Bladt Residence
The Bladt Residence in Flushing, Queens.

Traynor says in some of her group homes, 75 or even 100 percent of residents have the virus. Now, Traynor says the program is in a constant search for emergency workers to replace those who are out sick. “It’s a rat race every day. We're chasing staff every day,” she says.

Last weekend, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office delivered hundreds of masks, goggles, gowns and gloves to the group homes, in response to an NBC New York report that AABR residents with COVID-19 were remaining in local hospitals past the point of medical discharge. The staff did not have proper personal protective equipment to bring their residents home safely.  

The New York City Office of Emergency Management had notified AABR in writing that their program "fell below the priority level” to receive PPE. New York City's de Blasio administration did not respond to NBC New York’s requests for comment.

Bladt Residence
A resident at the Bladt Residence in Flushing, Queens, reads while wearing a mask.

Since Cuomo’s office came through with the equipment, AABR staff were able to bring nine residents recovering from coronavirus home from local hospitals, freeing up desperately needed beds.

According to Traynor, immediately following the NBC New York story, the program received about $20,000 in donations, which she says are sorely needed right now. The non-profit is suddenly facing what staff describe as a cash crisis.  New York State recently imposed a retroactive rate reduction and according to Traynor, is currently “garnishing” $150,000 a week from the program budget.

Traynor says, with expenses soaring as quickly as their coronavirus cases, she is unsure how the program will be able to care for its vulnerable residents.

In the meantime, workers like Judith Volmar at the John and Marie Bladt Residence in Flushing continue to show up for work, some earning as little as $15.75 per hour.

Six individuals at the Bladt Residence have tested positive for Covid-19. Volmar says she has been staggering meals and finding other creative ways to maintain safe distancing with a population that does not comprehend this unfamiliar concept.

“Most of them don’t understand but we try to implement it as much as possible,” Volmar said. “I try not to panic, because if you panic you will make the other people nervous.” 

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