Some employees of a local nonprofit that cares for people with developmental disabilities have reportedly been serving clients despite having active COVID-19 symptoms, with staffing short amid an ongoing virus outbreak at their facilities.
Developmental Options runs three immediate care facilities for people with developmental disabilities in Pocatello and Chubbuck.
Jamie Anthony, the organization’s residential program director, said the first Developmental Options resident tested positive on July 17. Based on the positive test, the organization consulted with Southeastern Idaho Public Health officials and had all of its employees and residents from that group home tested two days later.
Anthony said the results came back on July 22 and confirmed 16 of 23 tests were positive. She said the organization then tested the remaining 55 employees and residents of its two other group homes, confirming nine more positive cases. Anthony said many of the residents also have dual diagnosis in areas of mental and physical health. Two residents have been treated and released from Portneuf Medical Center for the coronavirus, she said.
“We hope people learn from our experiences and recognize that COVID-19 can be silently spreading in locations that have groups of people in close proximity, despite use of face masks and other personal protective equipment,” Anthony said in written comments in response to questions from the Idaho State Journal.
Anthony explained she allowed Developmental Options staff members who weren’t infected to opt to stay at home. Employees who tested positive but felt well enough to report to work were allowed to care for residents who were also infected, based on Centers for Disease Control guidelines for essential workers.
“Those who felt well enough to work did so with the confirmed cases in the quarantined setting of the facility,” Anthony said. “Supervisors have worked diligently to ensure adequate staffing for the residents, cohorting staff and residents to each assigned facility and handling any change in employee symptoms.
“If an employee had a sudden change while at work, the supervisor worked as quickly as possible to get that person off of shift, knowing that the residents cannot be left unattended and staff ratios are in place for safety of other employees as well as residents.”
A couple of coronavirus-afflicted Developmental Options employees who asked to remain anonymous, however, said they felt pressured to go to work even if they didn’t feel well. One employee said COVID-19 robbed him of energy and caused him to have the worst headache of his life for several days. He’s also felt winded after taking just a few steps, had stomach aches and still gets dizzy frequently.
With his breathing already restricted by the virus, he said wearing a mask at work added to his discomfort. He never developed a fever, however.
“I’m afraid it’s going to go on and on and we’re never going to get rid of it unless people stay home and recuperate,” the employee said, adding he has underlying health issues. “I’m scared.”
His message to the public is to avoid getting COVID-19 at all costs.
In addition to his physical discomfort, COVID-19 has taken an emotional toll on him. He recalled saying goodbye to a sick resident who was being taken to the hospital, convinced he’d never see the person again.
“It’s the worst thing. It’s so bad. You don’t want it,” the employee said. “Everybody thinks this is a joke, and it’s not a joke. It tears you up so much inside.”
He’d like his employer to implement hazard pay.
Another Developmental Options worker who got COVID-19 also had no fever but developed bad headaches. This worker said he had a cough and a runny nose and he lost his senses of taste and smell for a full week. He said he would have preferred to stay home and rest but wasn’t told that was an option until recently, when he received an email from Developmental Options specifying that employees are allowed to stay home if they feel unwell.
Anthony said in her written responses her organization has been consistent in its messaging that employees who feel too sick to work should stay home.
“Developmental Options has, and continues, to educate their employees on signs/symptoms of COVID-19, discouraging anyone from work when feeling ill, experiencing a fever or cough,” Anthony said. “Screening is completed when the employee reports to shift, providing him or her a temperature check and report any symptoms.”