February 1, 2021

To:  All WACOSA stakeholders

From:  Steve Howard, Executive Director

Re:  Update on WACOSA’s services

Since it has been a while since our last communication to stakeholders, we felt it time to, once again, reach out.  You may be questioning why WACOSA has not shared an updated COVID-19 communication for a while. Quite simply, very little has changed in our service delivery the past several months.  The governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dictate the services we provide, both in the maximum number of individuals we can serve and in the ways we provide service.  As shared in our last update, service numbers have grown to only slightly over 140, which is a two-thirds reduction in the number of persons served prior to the onset of the pandemic.  We have continued allowing clients to attend WACOSA within the confines of the governor’s order. The current restrictions imposed by the governor’s office and carried out by Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (DHS) have WACOSA serving the maximum number of individuals allowed within the governor’s mandate. The current limitations not only govern the number of individuals we can serve, but also the way/s in which we serve them.  Presently, we are using a “cohort” style of service.  That is, those receiving services at WACOSA, remain in the same group throughout their day, transport to and from WACOSA together, eat together, etc.  To the extent possible, the same staff are assigned to these groups daily.  This format is designed to reduce the chance of COVID-19 being introduced by new individuals entering and leaving groups. WACOSA’s response to the pandemic has been conservative, but effective.  As a result, we have experienced very few of our current clients or staff infected by COVID-19, with those who have contracted the virus weathering the illness quite well.  Right now, we are not aware of any COVID-19 deaths of WACOSA staff or persons receiving services. For this, we are very thankful.

In the midst of the many challenges presented by this healthcare crisis, we have remained optimistic and are beginning to see some lights at the end of the pandemic tunnel.  The past rounds of federal CARES funding have been instrumental in helping WACOSA remain financially balanced and programmatically viable.  Many of you responded to our 2020 year-end, annual appeal, providing financial gifts at a critical time in the life of our organization.  Thanks to all of you who were there for our organization in one of our greatest times of need!

What’s next?

Working within our restrictions – We continue to work within the restrictions of our state and federal authorities, providing services to the maximum number of individuals possible.  As the “dial” is turned to a less restrictive setting, we will open our services back up for additional individuals in ways we hope will allow us greater flexibility in how we design and deliver services.

Advocating where we can – We continue working through our state MOHR (Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation – https://mohrmn.org/.) Association to advocate for WACOSA’s clients and many stakeholders.  Representatives from MOHR are currently meeting weekly with top leaders at Minnesota’s DHS to share our concerns and ensure information is conveyed to the governor’s office on behalf of our constituents.

Partnering with residential providers – WACOSA’s administration continues to conference call weekly with several residential partners to coordinate strategies and ensure a well-considered, collegial approach as we tackle the many issues we have in common on behalf of those we serve.  We truly are “only as strong as our weakest link”.  Together, with our residential team members, we will do our best to provide continual and seamless support to everyone we support in common.

Reaching out creatively – WACOSA has advanced our efforts to provide virtual services during this challenging time.  With the help of expert WACOSA staff, we currently provide virtual/remote classes to over 50 individuals via WACOSA’s Connect Academy.  Classes are taught by instructors both in our immediate vicinity, as well as other states across our country.  Virtual classes are held in such areas as: Current Events, Job Exploration, Safety, Adaptive Media/Gaming, Theater/Dance, Book Club and Health and Wellness, to name a few (for more information visit www.wacosa.org, Clients and Families, click on “Virtual Classes)   This new service direction is an exciting silver lining to this otherwise challenging time.  We hope to continue providing and expanding our virtual service offerings even after COVID-19 is no longer a threat to our community.

Vaccines on the horizon – WACOSA’s administration is doing everything we can to facilitate our staff’s place on the waiting list to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as soon enough becomes available.

While challenges persist, we are hopeful there will eventually be an end to the concern of COVID-19.  Until that time, we continue to appreciate everyone’s patience.  Additionally, we ask you to keep in mind that WACOSA’s staffing has been reduced and our services have been reconfigured in such a way that, returning to more normal WACOSA operations will take time. We will do our best to keep you posted as new information develops and ask you to visit our website or Facebook pages for the latest information regarding WACOSA’s services.