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Group living facilities pull up the drawbridge to keep their communities safe

  • Residents and staff at Plowshare Farm in Greenfield have been self isolating since the beginning of the stay at home orders, using the property to find ways to stay together and engaged. Courtesy photo—

  • Residents and staff at Plowshare Farm in Greenfield have been self isolating since the beginning of the stay at home orders, using the property to find ways to stay together and engaged. Courtesy photo—

  • Residents and staff at Plowshare Farm in Greenfield have been self isolating since the beginning of the stay at home order. Courtesy photo

  • Two residents of the Lukas Community in Temple swing on a recent nice day. Lukas has not only closed down from the outside world, but each of the four residential homes have been self isolating during the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/26/2020 1:47:23 PM

Scattered throughout the region, there are small communities trying to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic unscathed.

Life-sharing facilities have a crucial place in the world for those with developmental disabilities and/or injuries, but in the face of a virus that has caused more than 200,000 deaths worldwide, it has presented an unpredictable challenge when it comes to keeping both residents and staff safe and healthy.

Protocols range from closing down to the outside world to isolating from one another, as the communities of Plowshare Farm, Lukas Community and Robin Hill Farm figure out how to provide the adequate amount of care, while adhering to guidelines and safe practices.

Plowshare

Kimberly Dorn, director of Plowshare Farm Lifesharing Community in Greenfield, said the thing the residents and staff miss the most “is being part of the greater community.”

But in an effort to keep everyone safe amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dorn said the decision was made to pull up the drawbridge and shut off from the outside world. While difficult, Dorn said there really was no other way to ensure the safety of the close to 40 people that call Plowshare home.

“We have no real contact. We’re isolating as a group,” Dorn said last week. “It’s been four weeks and no one’s crossing that line.”

Plowshare is made up of individual homes that house anywhere from eight to 12 individuals in an extended family style environment. They garden together, share lunch as a group five days a week and interact with each other on a daily basis.

“That’s why we put a circle around ourselves,” Dorn said.

Under normal circumstances, staff and individuals from the community would come to Plowshare during the daytime hours for the special experiences happening on a daily basis at the Greenfield property.

But none of that is happening now, which means more work for those living at Plowshare – and a loss in revenue.

“We’re losing probably $10,000 a month,” Dorn said. And while the money is important, keeping everyone healthy is of the utmost concern.

“If one person tests positive here, it’s likely we would all test positive because we’re so close together,” Dorn said. She added that no one at Plowshare has been tested or shown symptoms of COVID-19.

Four international volunteers who had been working at the community chose to return home to Germany.

With animals that produce food and large gardens and greenhouses, Dorn said they are lucky that things like milk and yogurt, eggs, vegetables and meat come from Plowshare, along with the onsite bakery.

“It’s not a huge amount that we need,” Dorn said of groceries. But one employee is in charge of doing the grocery shopping and leaves the food outside the property to then be properly sanitized and distributed to the individual homes.

For employees who don’t call Plowshare home, Dorn said those that can work from home are and others have been given jobs to do like making masks for both the community and Monadnock Community Hospital. The manager of Local Share, a gift and coffee shop on Main Street in Wilton, has been making items for when the store can reopen.

Dorn said that no individuals left Plowshare when the decision was made to self isolate. And families understood the reasons behind it.

“They just said my loved one is safer and happier there and we’ll just have to miss them,” Dorn said.

Many individuals living at Plowshare spend part of their days going out into the community, but with that on hold for the foreseeable future, it has been difficult to explain. But the silver lining is that Dorn feels the people of Plowshare are becoming even more of a community and the goal is to create more on-property experiences to get through the pandemic.

“We’re trying to find those little ways,” Dorn said.

Dorn said she does worry that the people who came to Plowshare during the day, whose lives have been sent into a state of uncertainty, but in the end it was the right decision to close down the community from the outside world.

And for those living at Plowshare, Dorn feels fortunate they are surrounded by beautiful gardens, extensive nature opportunities and animals.

“There’s a lot that’s lovely still,” she said. “All the beauty that is here, is still here. There’s a lot of activity going on. We’re just really lucky to have each other here.”

Lukas Community

Kristen Stanton, executive director of the Lukas Community in Temple, said things have been a bit in flux since the stay at home orders were put into place.

Stanton said the community, which has four large houses on the property and is home to 16 adults living with developmental disabilities, thrives off rhythm and structure. And with so many changes to the way things happen at Lukas, it has been difficult to navigate over the last month or so.

“All of a sudden their lives have been tipped upside down,” Stanton said.

Measures put into place include each house self isolating, which means there is no more interaction between the separate residences outside of gardening together, while applying social distancing practices.

Stanton said that many of the residents have been there for more than 30 years, so having and keeping a schedule is important to allow them to know what is coming next.

“These have been the biggest challenges some of our residents have ever seen,” Stanton said.

So the goal is to keep life as normal as possible.

In response to the worldwide pandemic, Stanton said the volunteers that come from Germany to fulfill a service gap year were told to come home, leaving the Lukas Community with many less hands to help out.

“That basically took half of my staff out of the picture,” Stanton said.

Stanton said with those losses there was a big need for more help to provide the kind of care required for the 16 residents. But it would come at an expense and a risk.

Through past efforts, Stanton identified eight local people that have signed on to help.

“Basically they’re fulfilling the roles of the volunteers,” Stanton said. Although they are being paid, compared to the volunteers from Germany who receive a stipend.

In order to remain as safe as possible, Stanton said the volunteers were directed and agreed to only travel between Lukas and home, as well as showering and putting on clean clothes prior to coming, proper handwashing upon arrival along with masks and gloves, and only working within one home.

“I’ll tell you it’s what keeps me up at night,” Stanton said of bringing in people from the outside. “But the risk of not having them is greater. I couldn’t have a single home, with one or two people overseeing care for four people, 24 hours a day. The level of care here is pretty intense.”

Stanton said that no one at Lukas has been tested or shown symptoms of COVID-19 and everything they do is in an effort to keep it that way.

Stanton said that groceries are being delivered to the community, while some local places like Connolly Brothers Dairy and the Birchwood Inn have offered to provide delivery services.

Since Stanton doesn’t live at Lukas, she hasn’t been in one of the houses or seen the residents for weeks. But since she is traveling back and forth from New Boston, she can fulfill some of those much-needed errands during the week, like picking up prescriptions and trips to the grocery store if needed.

Robin Hill Farm

Jerry Donovan, executive director of Robin Hill Farm with locations in Peterborough, Hillsborough and Deering, said residents' families have been very understanding about the measures put in place due to the state of emergency.

Right off the bat, Donovan said they closed down their six programs to outside visitors, including the two in Peterborough that house more than a dozen residents. Of the 42 individuals Robin Hill serves, about half are from New Hampshire, so many are used to connecting through phone calls and FaceTime, but is still difficult.

Donovan said they have been heeding the advice of the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure the safety of all residents and staff, but there have still been some concerns. He said that several staff and residents have been tested, but all the tests have come back negative. Donovan said he could not specify if those tested were in Peterborough.

“We haven’t had anybody we were fearful had COVID due to their symptoms,” Donovan said, rather that the tests were done out of an abundance of caution. He said their test results came back within 72 hours and staff and residents have been self isolated after testing.

“The question remains what happens if someone tested positive,” Donovan said.

At Robin Hill, which serves as a community-inclusive cognitive rehabilitation program exclusively for adults with brain injuries, staff work in a traditional three, eight hour shift sequence to care for residents. It opens up more chance for the virus to make it’s way into the facilities with people coming and going, and that’s why they have restricted all others from entering the programs.

Donovan said it has not been easy for the residents, who are used to going out into the community, but staff have been creative to keep clients engaged.

“What we try to do is replicate daily life,” Donovan said. “So they need to be in the community.”

But right now, it’s hard to know what the transition back to life in the community might look like.

He said like most healthcare facilities, personal protective equipment has been a topic of conversation. They had a reserve of gloves, masks and gowns, but realized if there were residents who tested positive the amount might not be enough. They have received sewn masks from the community, including by members of the Robin Hill community.

“All of which we really appreciate,” Donovan said.

Donovan said this time has allowed them to adopt some practices that will likely carry forward once things settle down.

“The things we’re learning about what we’re doing here might be practices we never give up,” he said.


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