By Steve Suroviec, President and CEO
With all counties in southwestern Pennsylvania now firmly in Governor Wolf’s “green” mode, Achieva is moving closer and closer back to a sense of normalcy. For the past three months, Achieva – like all businesses and disability service organizations – has been focused on navigating the COVID-19 public health emergency. I’d like to first say thank you to all of the people we support and their families. This has been an extremely challenging time for people with disabilities who rely on publicly-funded supports and services. Daily routines were disrupted significantly due to facility-based day programs being shuttered, and efforts to fight social isolation became paramount when “no visitor” policies were instituted in community homes. Other services, like early intervention for little children with developmental delays and community participation support, went “virtual” as face-to-face encounters were either discouraged or flat-out prohibited by our state funders. Indeed, the people we support and their families sacrificed greatly during the past three months, and I believe they have been some of the most underappreciated heroes during the Coronavirus pandemic.
All Achieva employees, from our wonderful direct support professionals (DSPs), advocates, and Family Trust staff to our top-notch administrative and other behind-the-scenes support staff, have been nothing but inspirational during the past quarter. Most DSPs continued showing up to perform their vital duties regardless of the potential risks. And our non-DSP employees performed exceptionally well under challenging circumstances. Those who could work from home (which presented a unique set of challenges) while others continued coming to the office to perform their essential duties. In all, Achieva had to keep functioning, and our dedicated staff really stepped up to make sure the people we support were never forgotten and continued receiving the life-sustaining services they needed.
As the state has slowly moved from “red” to “yellow” to now “green”, most of Achieva’s suspended services are coming back to life. Some virtual services continue, but competitive-integrated employment, community participation support (non-facility), early intervention, home and community supports, and community-supported living are operational. Our employment site in Bridgeville continues to operate, as does our VaultArt studio in Lawrenceville (albeit at a lesser capacity - for now). Our Family Trust staff continue doing their vital work, as do our advocates and protective services staff within The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh. And, as soon as the Governor lifted his stay-at-home directive, Achieva lifted its rigid “no visitor” policy at its community homes, yet we continue to apply strict protocols to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. For example, we are screening all persons entering a home; staff and visitors must wear face coverings, and visitors must be scheduled in advance to ensure sufficient space to social distance. Cleaning and sanitizing occur frequently, especially between visitors. Most importantly, we’re individualizing things because each person’s health situation, interests, and wishes are different.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not over and we must continue to be vigilant, yet I’m proud that Achieva never lost sight of its mission, vision, and values during the past three months. Yes, health and safety are very important, but so is being able to live one’s life. I believe Achieva continues to strike the appropriate balance between the two.
As always, please feel free to contact me should you have any questions or comments.