How Cope has dealt with the pandemic challenge

SEAN ABBOT, CEO of the Cope Foundation in Cork, says the pandemic has thrown down a series of serious challenges to the organisation, but it is battling to overcome them
How Cope has dealt with the pandemic challenge

Paul Fitzgerald and Caitlin Lyons, from the COPE Community Hub, Pope’s Quay, after the One Mile Challenge at Ballyphehane Park in Octobe.

THE challenge of providing services and supports during Covid 19 has, to say the least, been extremely difficult and stressful for everyone associated with Cope Foundation.

The outbreak of Covid-19 had an unprecedented impact on the disability sector and service providers such as Cope Foundation. During this most difficult time for our country and community, we were faced with the twin challenges of introducing measures to protect vulnerable people, staff, and those who care for them, while also seeking to continue to provide essential services and support.

The challenges we faced have been immense and unprecedented. The people we support, their families and our colleagues, have had to deal with so much uncertainty, upheaval and change. It has been a privilege to witness the ongoing commitment and resilience shown right across the organisation — from colleagues making personal sacrifices that impact their home and personal life in order to do their job; to people we support learning new ways of doing things and demonstrating great strength and adaptability; to families who have had to manage with reduced services, no respite, and limited transport.

We responded very early to this risk and implemented a series of prevention measures including the closure of day services and restriction of visitors to our residential services. We developed very targeted plans that ensured that the most up to date public health guidance and best practice was incorporated into the provision of services and supports and which guided practice within residential settings.

The professionalism, skills, flexibility and commitment of staff was critical to the successful roll out of our plans to control and prevent infection at first in residential settings, but later in day services and other aspects of support.

The critical role of staff and their long-term relationship-based commitment to the person and their families ensured the people we support in residential services were, in the main, kept safe from contracting Covid-19. We did have several cases in two locations, but all have recovered fully and remain well.

Sean Abbot, CEO of the Cope Foundation in Cork
Sean Abbot, CEO of the Cope Foundation in Cork

Over the past months, people right across Cope Foundation have worked tirelessly to develop alternative ways to support individuals and we have seen just how important technology can be when delivering services and supports; promoting independence; continuing learning; and providing people with options.

However, and on a more serious note, I have to highlight the not-so-positive outcomes the various Covid-19 restrictions are creating for Cope Foundation and those we support. We have had to temporarily close our children’s respite services, which was a devastating blow to so many families. Our staff shortages, due to redeployment and movement restrictions, are causing multiple issues for our services and means people we support are still receiving limited services — and for some people, this really isn’t sufficient.

Our day service centres can now only provide limited occupancy. Our transport offering has been significantly reduced, resulting in hundreds of people being unable to access their day service, or relying on family, neighbours or friends to help them out. Our adult respite services, already under-resourced and in huge demand, have been significantly curtailed and only those deemed ‘priority cases’ are receiving this. The situation is deeply concerning and the toll this is taking on people we support, their families and carers cannot be underestimated.

There are a range of areas across day services, residential and respite in which funding is required in the management of Covid-19. These supports are just as important as those provided in our schools, colleges and hospitals.

As capacity has lessened in day services to meet the requirements of social distancing, it is not possible to accommodate pre-Covid numbers in centre-based day services. This is driving a requirement for substantial additional staffing significantly above pre-Covid levels. This comes on top of a range of other additional costs including minor adaptation works to locations, provision of isolation centres, appropriate cleaning, sanitisation and signage, initial PPE outlay, technology costs to support individuals at home and additional transport

On that note, I warmly welcome the Budget announcement of the provision of €20million to progress the Transforming Lives Programme and €100million for new disability services. This will be an important step in the context of upholding the rights of people with disabilities as required by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and I anticipate this will be the first year of a multiannual funding programme.

I further welcome the provision of additional funding this year to allow us to speed up the resumption of day services by the recruitment of additional staff and the procurement of extra space, which will allow more face to face contact in locations closer to a person’s home.

People with intellectual disabilities and their families are one of the most vulnerable groups in society and cannot be forgotten when discussing the impact of Covid-19. My colleagues and I are doing everything we can to protect those we support and resume services and supports to as near to pre-Covid levels as possible, and will continue to advocate on their behalf for the resources needed to not only deal with the current situation, but for funding that will meet the unmet and changing needs of people into the future.

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