‘There is no manual for what to do next’

Margaret Jean Jones Center adult day program in limbo due to COVID-19

Since mid-March, the Cullman County Center for the Developmentally Disabled (CCCDD)’s Margaret Jean Jones Center has not been able to operate its adult day program due to COVID-19. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Since mid-March, the Cullman County Center for the Developmentally Disabled (CCCDD)’s Margaret Jean Jones Center has not been able to operate its adult day program due to COVID-19.

On June 15, the Alabama Department of Mental Health Division of Developmental Disabilities (ADMH-DDD) issued its 15th Guidance for AL Community Providers of Services for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities release. It states, “Given the responsibility of the ADMH-DDD to ensure health and safety and, considering the rising number of positive cases in Alabama and the vulnerability of the population served through our waiver services, ADMH-DDD will postpone the opening of facility-based day services through July 31, 2020.”

Unfortunately, the center remains closed. CCCDD Director Charese Morris said part of the issue is the way the center and its clients have been classified.

“We receive funding from Medicaid and the Department of Mental Health. The DMH governs when we open and how we operate,” she said. “They are treating our residents/individuals like nursing home residents. We have not been given a reopening date – well, we have, but it seems to change every two weeks!  Our families have adjusted with keeping our day program people at home, but those caregivers need a break as well. Many of the caregivers are older adults – some need to go back to work.”

Under Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s Safer at Home Order, restrictions on nursing homes and similar long-term care facilities say that such facilities must “limit the entrance of visitors, as defined by the facility, and non-essential health care personnel, except for certain compassionate care situations such as maternity, end-of-life, and support for persons with disabilities, as well as any other situations where the presence of a caregiver would facilitate appropriate care.” Senior citizen centers have had all regular programs suspended completely, except for meals available via curbside pick-up or delivery.

Morris continued, “The problem with all this is that there is no manual for what to do next.  We are all expected to adapt to masks, PPE (personal protective equipment), social distancing – but many of our people don’t understand that.  They need love by means of hugs and smiles – things that the virus rules won’t let you do.” 

One CCCDD client’s parent, David Screws, spoke to The Tribune about how the closure is affecting his daughter and her friends.

“The daily teaching activity is not taking place since the center closed, and clients are not allowed to go to the center at all,” he said. “Our daughter doesn’t get to be around staff and other clients, and she and the other clients really miss seeing their friends.”

Without being able to go to the center for various activities, many clients spend most of their time in one of the CCCDD’s group homes.

While she does not know when the CCCDD will be able to reopen and resume day program activities, Morris said other programs have continued operation.

“Our employees have continued to work. The day program has been closed since March 18, but our eight group homes and our work center that recycles boxes for Wal-Mart have remained open the entire time,” Morris said. “The daycare reopened in April, and our day program employees have been able to fill in at group homes during the day hours.”

She continued, “I can’t say enough for the employees of CCCDD. They have been amazing! We have a great group of workers who are determined to do the best they can to keep our residents safe.”

Morris finished by saying, “Our day program building was heavily damaged by the hail storm of 2018. We were so excited that the repairs were completed in May. We cannot wait for our CCCDD family to see it when we reopen – hopefully one day soon.”

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Heather Mann