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COVID-19 Blog #5

Moving Forward, Opening Up: Five Priorities for Health

Yona Lunsky

It has been three months since everything closed down due to COVID-19 and we have all felt its impact. Now, as the number of COVID cases are decreasing, we are moving forward and thinking about opening up.  But, we approach this with trepidation because there is a lot we still do not know.

As we think ahead, I am thinking about the health of people with developmental disabilities and what opening up means to them and their families. I outline five priorities for us to remember at this time.

Most of these messages are not new, but they are worth being repeated.

Masks for all

As I outlined in an earlier blog, when I wear my mask, I protect you and when you wear your mask, you protect me. In many communities we will be expected to wear masks on public transportation and in enclosed areas in the coming months. We need to support the majority of people who can learn to wear masks comfortably and safely, but we also need to support people with disabilities who are not able to wear masks. As a community, we are so good at caring for one another. Here is one way for us to do this. 

Health care is open for business

We cannot forget all of the health issues people with developmental disabilities are susceptible to and need close monitoring. These include issues related to vision, hearing, dental hygiene, skin, feet, muscles, bowels and urination. Medications need monitoring too. Some of these issues can be managed virtually but not all of them. But we can start virtually, even if a visit can’t happen in person. And certainly health care visits can happen in person when they are required - it is better to see a doctor on a computer or tablet than not seeing one at all. This is a message that needs to be repeated. Watch this video showing how this can happen.

Mental health is health

If someone is anxious or if someone’s mood has changed for the worse and it is not improving, this is a health issue too, just like a physical health problem. We should not wait to get help. There are resources to talk about these things, but just talking may not be enough. The HELP model helps us to better understand mental health issuesThese booklets were developed for people with developmental disabilities during COVID.

Planning for emergencies

Emergencies happened before the pandemic and they will happen during, especially if we don’t do proactive care and have appropriate supports available. Rules in hospitals have changed - more masks, fewer people. This means it can be harder to communicate and essential support people may not be there in person. Using planning tools can help you be prepared for anything. You can read more about this here. Download the COVID-19 Hospital Transfer Form here.

Rules keep changing

We need to help people understand the rules and stay updated. This was summarized beautifully last week by self-advocate leader Gary Bourlett from the UK. If we help people to understand the changing nature of rules, then they will be less inclined to disregard the rules or get angry with people trying to enforce them. We learn more about this virus each day and that means our rules will change over time. That is okay. It means we are not stuck doing something when we now know better. As things open up, we will have new rules we need to understand and follow. So let’s help everyone do this. And when a rule doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t work for you, it is okay to speak up. We can all be part of the solution to make rules work better for everyone.