An Important Message Regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19)

From Steve Howard, Executive Director, WACOSA

 

07/30/2020

To:  All WACOSA stakeholders

From:  Steve Howard, Executive Director

Re:  Update on WACOSA’s services

I want to pass along a quick update regarding WACOSA’s services as the current pandemic and its effects continue.  We continue to provide services under the guidelines authorized by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, with strict adherence to WACOSA’s Pandemic Response Action and Prevention Plan (See WACOSA’s Pandemic Response Plan here).  While our service numbers have grown to slightly over 100, this continues to represent a two-thirds reduction in the number of persons served prior to the onset of the pandemic.  Given the current DHS restrictions, we are beginning to approach the maximum number of individuals we are legally able to serve until current state restrictions are lifted.

 

You will recall recently we asked many of you to reach out to your respective legislators in an effort to gain the support needed by the Minnesota Legislature to provide emergency COVID1-19 relief funding.  We greatly appreciate the efforts of those who took the time to intervene on behalf of individuals with disabilities and WACOSA’s services.  Unfortunately, in spite of strong bi-partisan support, Minnesota’s 2nd Special Session ended with no emergency relief funding for day and employment services providers like WACOSA.  With a much-anticipated, possibly final, special legislative session set for August, we are yet hopeful our legislators will hear the funding concerns of our programs and respond with the emergency aid programs/services like WACOSA’s need across Minnesota.  In anticipation of this coming special session, please continue reaching out to your legislative representatives to share your story and impress upon them the critical need for COVID-19 relief funding.

Reducing our capacity to serve individuals has created loss of income requiring critical legislative funding relief.  Presently, given our limitations in generating revenues, we are required to cut expenses to the bare minimum in order to keep WACOSA as economically sound as possible.  This has required a policy of very minimal spending, along with additional staff layoffs and unpaid furloughs.

While challenges persist, we appreciate that legislative processes take time. WACOSA’s staff, leadership and Board of Directors remain optimistic our organization will weather this difficult time and eventually be able to provide services to all clients who wish to receive them. Should you have questions, please reach out to any of WACOSA’s leadership team or access one of our media sources for up-to-date information (i.e. Facebook,www.wacosa.org, etc.) We will continue to keep you updated as changes develop.

From everyone at WACOSA, thank you for your continued support, advocacy and action.

Actions you can take?

Watch Wednesday’s Senate Human Services Reform Committee Hearing: Senator Abeler and this committee will be addressing multiple issues that impact WACOSA’s services. Listen in at 10:00 am on 7/29/2020 via Senate YouTube Channel or Senate Media Link

Contact the Governor: Governor Walz and his administration need to continue to hear the impact on what it would mean if day and employment services were not available. Continue to reach out to the Governor at 651-201-3400 or by using the Governor email tool

Contact your State Legislator/s:  Let your MN Senators and Representatives know the critical need for COVID-19 relief funding as they go into the August Special Session. You can use this link to find who you should contact in your area:  https://www.gis.leg.mn/iMaps/districts/

Contact your Federal Legislators: Let Federal Senators and Representatives know the importance of including our services in the fourth COVID relief bill by using ANCOR’s email tool: ANCOR email tool 

If you receive a personal reply from one of your elected officials, feel free to forward it to info@wacosa.org.

 

Recent Media

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 13, 2020

To:  All WACOSA stakeholders

From:  Steve Howard, Executive Director

Re:  Update on WACOSA’s services

We were notified this morning that restrictions on serving individuals living in congregate living situations have been lifted, within the boundaries allowed for all clients currently receiving services at WACOSA.  We understand that, within the current limitations, services can resume immediately.  As a reminder, some of these key restrictions include:

  • Clients can only attend one three hour shift a day in-center.
  • Client groups can be no larger than 10 individuals, including staff.
  • No more than 50 individuals, clients and staff, will be allowed in any WACOSA facility at one time.
  • Any person with an active case of COVID-19 or who has had COVID-19 exposure in the last 14 days is not permitted to attend services.  Services can continue following a mandatory 14-day period of quarantine.
  • Adherence to our COVID-19 Preparedness Plan is mandatory.  Additionally, we require all individuals attending or staffing our services to adhere to this plan, as well.  For staff, this means a mask must be worn at all times.  For clients, masks should be worn, as tolerated, by each individual.  All other plan requirements related to handwashing, sanitization processes etc. must be followed.  As a reminder, please see the link below to review WACOSA COVID-19 Pandemic Response Action and Prevention Plan.
  • https://45fjp73c6sre3nucnd2bve5w-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/WACOSA-Covid-19-Pandemic-Response-Action-and-Prevention-Plan-4-2020.pdf

Any individual wishing to receive services from WACOSA, within the boundaries required by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), should email info@wacosa.org to share this information with WACOSA’s leadership team.  Please find a link to a recent Star Tribune article related to this recent development here: https://www.startribune.com/minnesota-reopens-adult-day-centers-for-all-people-with-disabilities/571734642/.

We will continue to keep you posted as new developments occur.  We thank you for your patience during this time and encourage you to reach out to one of WACOSA’s Administrative Team members should you have questions.  Additionally, please continue to monitor WACOSA’s various points of social media including our website (www.wacosa.org), our Facebook page and our recorded phone line for the most up-to-date information we can share regarding our services at this time.  It is our sincere hope services will evolve back to normal in the very near future.

Thanks.

 

July 7, 2020

To:  All WACOSA stakeholders

From:  Steve Howard, Executive Director

Re:  Update on WACOSA’s services

We here at WACOSA hope you continue to remain well as we navigate these difficult times. As we have continued to do, we wish to keep you updated regarding the most recent events/decisions related to our services here at WACOSA.  As is often the case, you may hear bits and pieces of information regarding the actions/plans we have/are putting into place at WACOSA.  To avoid potential misinformation and confusion, we provide the following update.

The unforeseen toll of the current pandemic has made it necessary to look forward and make adjustments/changes at WACOSA now so we can remain a strong and viable service provider long into the future.  You may recall WACOSA is only reimbursed for the services we provide, as clients attend our programs.  At present, current prohibitions by Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and the governor’s office related to serving clients in congregate living settings, has resulted in WACOSA not receiving over 90% of the funding with which we have traditionally operated.  The current situation has become unsustainable at the levels we have been supplementing it financially for the past 4 months.

In order to ensure WACOSA’s ability to provide services well into the future, we are implementing some difficult decisions to restructure our programs/services. To this end, we will be eliminating several positions in various departments and will be implementing both unpaid furloughs/layoffs at all levels of the organization.  It is our intent to call staff back to work consistent with the speed at which we can resume services to a broader range of our clientele.  While our staff and services will likely look somewhat different as services come back on-line once the pandemic abates, rest assured we will continue to provide services with the same passion and commitment to the many clients, staff and stakeholders who remain a valued part of our organization. To this end, should we lose staff, we are hopeful they might again choose to work for WACOSA as future events may allow. 

 

As we continue working to address the challenges we are facing, we do so setting clear principles for our decision-making that are consistent with WACOSA’s enduring belief in the value of our many stakeholders and staff.  Throughout this most recent decision-making process, we have sought through every change to ensure our decisions: 1) align with our mission, values and long-term vision; 2) demonstrate care and stewardship of our many resources; 3) protect our core strengths; 4) accelerate innovation to invest in our future; and, 5) prioritize investments of our resources that build our potential for greater client service delivery in the future.

We thank you for your patience during this time and encourage you to reach out to one of WACOSA’s Administrative Team members should you have questions.  Additionally, please continue to monitor WACOSA’s various points of social media including our website (www.wacosa.org), our Facebook page and our recorded phone line for the most up-to-date information we can share regarding our services at this time.   If you prefer, our informational email is also available at info@wacosa.org.

Thank you.

June 24, 2020

To:  All WACOSA staff and stakeholders

From:  Steve Howard, Executive Director

Re:  Service Update

As we approach July 1, 2020, I wanted to take a moment and connect with our many valued stakeholders and staff of WACOSA.  Regretfully, I have no new news regarding the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) allowing us to once again provide services to clients living in congregate living settings.  This is very unfortunate and frustrating for all of the individuals we serve who wish to return to work/services, as well as the family members who advocate for them.  Also, frustrated are the WACOSA staff who call daily asking when they can return to work and expressing how much they miss seeing and working with WACOSA clientele.  We are very aware of these feelings and have been working hard through our legislative representatives to appeal to the governor’s office to lift the ban on services to clients in congregate living situations.  While we respect the choice of many not to return to work/services for various personal and family reasons, we also support the right of those we serve to make an informed choice in consultation with their circle of support, related to how they conduct their own lives.

For now, I would like to share what has been occurring these past 2 weeks since I last shared an update with you.  At this time, WACOSA’s two business enterprises, DocuShred and Thriftworks!, have resumed operation.  Currently, they are open limited hours for both store operations and donation drop-off so I encourage you to visit www.wacosa.org/docushred or www.wacosa.org/thriftworks for the latest information, should you wish to visit these businesses. Additionally, as permitted by DHS, we now have 70 persons served back to work in a part-time capacity.  Work hours extend over 3 shifts, with each shift being no longer than 3 hours each.  These 70 individuals include persons who are assisting with the completion of contract work, working in community employment on a limited basis and participating in the pursuit of individual placement opportunities.

We will continue keeping you posted at regular intervals when new developments occur.  For now, we appreciate your continued patience and hope the ban on services to individuals in congregate living situations lifts soon.  Be advised, representatives from our state association, MOHR, have consulted with the Minnesota Disability Law Center in an effort to advocate for those who wish to return to work but are being prevented from doing so.  While these advocates listened closely to our concerns, they made it clear that any progress toward upholding the rights of those we serve must come through clients and their families, not through service providers, like WACOSA.  Should you, as a service recipient or family member/advocate, wish to express your concern over the current restriction on services, feel free to contact the Disability Law Center at (612) 332-1441 or email at info@mylegalaid.org.

Thank you.

 

June 10, 2020

To:  All WACOSA staff and stakeholders

From:  Steve H., Executive Director

Re:  Initial re-establishment of services

As has been our practice throughout the current pandemic, we are reaching out today to provide our staff and many stakeholders an update regarding WACOSA’s services and efforts underway to re-establish a portion of our services.  As you are aware, we continue to receive guidance from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS).  In our last memo to you dated June 1, 2020, we included a note from DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead entitled, “Update on Resuming HCBS Day Services”.  This note outlined some preliminary steps that are being authorized by DHS to re-establish a portion of both our employment and on-site services, though in a significantly reduced capacity.

While we would prefer authorization to serve a larger number of individuals for full days, we are proceeding within the boundaries of what we have been authorized to provide.  At the present time, a number of WACOSA staff, including leadership team members, have been called back into daily service.  V.P. of Programs and Quality Assurance, Nancy Betts, is working with these individuals to organize themselves into small teams to address such things as social distancing (i.e. visual cues/spatial planning), staff training, re-establishing paperwork systems, transportation and constructing client work groups. Much of this preparation has included contacting various clientele (groups that DHS is allowing us to serve), either directly or through family members/guardians to determine who wishes to return to work.  As you can imagine, this is often very different for each person we contact and is a lengthy process. Currently, we are planning some work crews to begin again next week, as employer needs dictate.  We also expect that some work crews may no longer be in operation, should a business have closed during the current shutdown or if the needs of an employer have changed during the current crisis.

Should you have questions, I encourage you to contact our V.P. of Programs and Services, Nancy Betts at 320-257-5187 or email at nbetts@wacosa.org.  You can also contact me at 320-257-5180 or showard@wacosa.org. We will get back to you as soon as possible. Please stay connected with WACOSA’s various sources of information as we move into the summer months in order to get as up-to-the-minute information regarding the eventual re-establishment of all WACOSA services. We will continue to provide updates to all of our staff and stakeholders as we learn more information and develop plans for additional services.

As always, thanks again for your patience during this time.  Stay healthy and safe as we reconvene services over time.

June 1, 2020

To:  All WACOSA staff and stakeholders

From:  Steve H., Executive Director

Re:  COVID-19 Update

By today, we had hoped to be in the process of a larger phased reopening WACOSA’s services.  Unfortunately, we are not at that point yet.  Again, we wish to keep you up-to-date on what we know related to DHS’s guidance regarding WACOSA, and programs like ours, resuming services.  Below, please read the DHS communication from Commissioner, Jodi Harpstead relating to the current situation.  While this does not represent the full opening we continue to hope for, it does represent a gradual loosen of restrictions.

It is possible many of you may have questions related to one of the three categories of services being allowed outlined below.  If so, I encourage you to contact our V.P. of Programs and Services, Nancy Betts at 320-257-5187 or email at nbetts@wacosa.org.  You can also contact me as usual at 320-257-5180 or showard@wacosa.org. We will get back to you as soon as possible.  One point of clarification related to the memo below, the second comment refers to individuals who are in competitive employment, as well as work crews/enclaves.  Nancy and her team are in the process of working out some of the logistics related to recommencing these services very soon.

Please stay connected with WACOSA’s various sources of information as we move into the summer months in order to get as up-to-the-minute information regarding the eventual re-establishment of all WACOSA services.

Thanks for your continued patience.  As always, please stay healthy and safe.

THE FOLLOWING IS THE LETTER FROM THE MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES:

Update on Resuming HCBS Day Services

May 30th, 2020

Dear Partner,

On May 20, we informed providers of day services for people with disabilities that, despite the move from Stay-at-Home MN to Stay Safe MN, it would be too risky to re-open facilities that provide day services at the time.

We have worked as swiftly as possible since then to determine what services could still be provided as Minnesota begins to open non-critical businesses.

Today I am able to announce that there are three areas where the Department of Human Services believes it would be feasible for services to be provided:

First, in modifying a prior flexibility, we have approved a new flexibility that allows services to be provided by remote technology to people who live in group home settings.  These services include:

  • Health, safety, and well-being check-ins and assistance with problem-solving
  • Stress management and behavioral redirection
  • Community and safety awareness

Second, we wish to clarify that, as Minnesota has moved from Stay-at-Home to Stay Safe MN, people with jobs with employers that are re-opening their businesses within the requirements of applicable Executive Orders may also return to their jobs and receive employment supports.

Lead agencies and providers should work with people to allow them to make informed choices, including considerations such as:

  • People considered at high-risk – those over 65 or with underlying health conditions – are strongly encouraged to stay home.
  • Employers should have Preparedness Plans on file with the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
  • Individuals should be prepared to protect themselves in the workplace by regular hand-washing, mask-wearing, not touching their faces, etc.

Third, we have worked in close collaboration with the MN Department of Health to develop a plan for day services facilities to partially open to serve people who live in their own home or who live with family members in non-congregate licensed or unlicensed settings, but not those who come to those facilities from congregate living settings.

Once again, people considered high-risk – those over 65 or with underlying conditions – are strongly encouraged to stay home.  Also, a person’s service-related rights include the right to  make an informed choice about whether to receive day services in the licensed facility/community or to “stay-at-home.”

License holders of a day services facility license must adhere to Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on COVID-19, and they must establish and implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan as set forth in Emergency Executive Order 20-63, paragraph 7.e.

Additional requirements regarding capacity, cohort size, duration of shifts, screening protocols, and other measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 will be communicated in guidance through normal channels within the next few days. Programs may resume operating after receiving the specific Licensing guidance and completing the COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.

We hope that these new flexibilities will provide people with disabilities across Minnesota a fuller opportunity to access vital emotional and social supports while minimizing the risk to health and safety from COVID-19 exposure.

Sincerely,

Jodi Harpstead, Commissioner

Minnesota Department of Human Services

 

May 20, 2020

To:  All WACOSA staff and stakeholders

From:  Steve H., Executive Director

Re:  COVID-19 Update

In keeping with our promise, we are writing to inform you of a recent development regarding our ability to reopen in the near future.  Regrettably, we received word from the Minnesota Department of Human Services today that programs that provide services like WACOSA will not be permitted to reopen at this time. Concern around individuals in congregate living situations and the recent spike in COVID-19 cases is one reason behind this decision, in addition to time spent in close proximity with one another. (Please see the notification from DHS below)

While we are disappointed with this news, we will continue to do our best to keep you posted regarding important  new updates or changes.  Please stay connected with WACOSA’s various sources of information as we move into the summer months in order to get as up-to-the-minute information regarding the re-establishment of our services.

Thanks for your continued patience with this difficult situation.  Please stay healthy and safe.

BELOW IS THE LETTER RECEIVED FROM THE MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, DATED 05/20/2020.

Dear Partner:

As I wrote last week, when Governor Walz announced the shift from Stay at Home MN to Stay Safe MN we began to explore the steps necessary to re-open day center services for people with disabilities.

We have been working with the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) to develop the strongest guidelines possible to protect the health of employees and people we support. This included hygiene, distancing, masking, screening, operating at 50% capacity, allowing twice the space per person, and creating cohorts of less than 10 people that don’t intermix with other cohorts.

We have also worked with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to develop appropriate masking strategies for people with disabilities, consider guidance for what to do if someone tests positive for COVID-19, and look at the possibilities of allowing center-based and remote services.

In consultation with MDH, we have identified two important health and safety considerations we have not been able to mitigate in order to open day services for people with disabilities at this time.

The first issue – and the greatest at this time – is the recent number of positive COVID-19 cases in group homes for people with disabilities. After COVID-19 first appeared in nursing and assisted living facilities, some 5% of small congregate care sites like group homes have now also experienced positive COVID-19 cases.

Many of the individuals who use day services live in group homes. While we are trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 in group homes, it would be a mistake to bring people together into day centers every day and send them back to their homes potentially exposed to the virus. This could undermine our mitigation strategies in those residential settings.

Our second issue is the increased risk of COVID-19 when we have more, closer and longer exposures to people who are COVID-19 positive. We are just beginning to understand that another risk factor in contracting COVID-19 is the length of time we are exposed to people who are positive. There is a difference between moving around a grocery store for 20 minutes and sitting in a restaurant for 2 hours.  Day services facilities have people interacting with each other for 6 hours a day. If anyone shares a cohort with a COVID-19 positive colleague, their risk of contracting the virus is greater.

So, while I apologize for raising the hopes of our day services providers and staff that we might be able to support their reopening, it is our best judgement, based on the best health advice we have, that it would be too risky to re-open day centers at this time. While we understand the many challenges this creates for you and the people you serve, protecting the health and safety of vulnerable Minnesotans is our first priority.

At the request of the MOHR association, we are looking at allowing day services providers to provide more remote services to residents of group homes. We will communicate more as soon as we can, and we will continue to work with MOHR to explore other solutions to support these important community-based services.

We will continue to assess the situation regularly throughout the pandemic and we’ve agreed to discuss the current situation with MOHR every other week to see what new guidance we can develop to allow you to support Minnesotans with disabilities.

Thank you for who you are for your neighbors in Minnesota.

Sincerely,

Jodi Harpstead, Commissioner
Minnesota Department Human Services 

May 15, 2020

To: All WACOSA stakeholders
From: Steve H., Executive Director
Re: COVID-19 Update

We wanted to check in with all of our WACOSA stakeholders on the current COVID-19 situation, as we know it. While we don’t have any specific news to share, it would be fair to say we are heartened with the Governor’s recent comments about the potential for reopening many segments of society in the coming weeks. We are checking with our contacts through MOHR, our state association, to learn what we can about the intent of Governor Walz’s comments and to determine how these comments pertain to our services, in particular. Right now, we understand the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) will be reviewing Preparedness Plans created by organizations to determine what, if anything, must be changed to ensure the health and well-being of organizations who eventually reopen their doors for service. Our plan has been prepared and is ready for review.

While we cannot yet share an exact timeframe, we hope you also feel a sense of confidence in the tone of the governor’s recent comments. Presently, we are in the process of developing plans to once again begin serving our clients using a phased in approach. Phases will be constructed considering such factors as determining those clients who wish to return to work and where individuals are located geographically. We are working cooperatively with a number of our key residential providers to ensure the plans we are drafting do our best to balance out the choices of our various stakeholders, while keeping in mind our responsibilities for operating a program that places safety and health as a top priority. As you can imagine, this takes time and is challenging, given the many individuals involved and consulting relating to this process.

In the coming days and weeks, we will be constructing a list of items that will need to be completed to enable us to, once again, provide WACOSA’s trademark services. We fully anticipate the need to adjust many of the ways WACOSA has historically provided services (i.e. using PPE, developing social distancing of work stations, sanitizing schedules etc.) to ensure that everyone, to the best of our abilities, remains healthy and safe. We ask that you remain patient and somewhat flexible once services do commence. Please remember WACOSA served just shy of 700 clients in 2019. This represents a wide range of needs all based upon the unique aspects each individual, as well as their respective circles of support. While we will do our best to meet the needs of all of those we serve, reintegration plans will take time to unfold entirely. For example, we anticipate many clients will not wish to return to services until the COVID-19 pandemic has more fully run its course. Others may wish to attend immediately. Challenges to arrange efficient transportation routes must be addressed resulting in the timing and make-up of routes being adjusted. These are but a few of the issues we will be tackling as the time for re-opening approaches. Your patience will be appreciated.

Please stay connected with WACOSA’s various sources of information as we move into the summer months in order to get as up-to-the-minute information regarding the re-establishment of our services. Keep in mind the impact on COVID-19 is very different across the state of Minnesota. As a result, you may hear programs who provide services similar to those WACOSA provides beginning to reopen. You may ask why WACOSA has not yet reopened. Please remember that the Governor’s executive orders must be considered within the context of the unique health concerns of those we serve and the general environment of COVID-19 infections currently popping up in and around the central Minnesota area. While we are excited and anxious to re-open, we cannot do so in a way that endangers the health and well-being of our clients, staff and community. Feel free to contact any of WACOSA’s leadership team for additional information or to get answers to your questions. We hope to commence services once again in the very near future.

 

April 28, 2020

 

To:  All WACOSA stakeholders

From:  Steve Howard, Executive Director

Re:  Check-in during the COVID-19 crisis

 

As promised, we will continue to check in with our stakeholders during the current COVID-19 crisis.  First, all of us here at WACOSA hope you continue to remain healthy and are exercising proper practices to protect yourself, clients and family members, during the current pandemic. As the Governor’s deadline of May 4, 2020 approaches, we have no news or information that would lead us to believe we will be reopening at that time.  We continue to anticipate Governor Walz will extend the current stay-at-home order for an additional period, though we still do not know how long that will be.  As with many of you, we were heartened to hear the Governor speak recently of possibly reopening some businesses, provided necessary COVID-19 Preparedness Plans were in place.  To the extent possible, WACOSA is already working to construct such a plan so we can be ready to begin providing at least some services as soon as our segment of community/business operations is authorized to do so.  As promised, we will continue to keep everyone posted regarding WACOSA’s re-opening plans and ask that you monitor our various social media outlets for the timeliest updates related to this process.

Thanks so much for the continued phone calls, Facebook posts and emails reaching out to wish all of us here at WACOSA the best. We miss all of you, as well. To the extent possible, we continue to stay in contact with our various stakeholder groups, as much as possible. For those of you who are interested and able, WACOSA staff will be lining Sundial Drive to wave and say hello to everyone passing by Friday, May 1, 2020 from 1:30pm – 2:00pm.  We would love to give all of our clients, families and friends an “air high-five” or a “wave” from a safe distance.  If you can find time to drive by during this 30-minute period, we would love to see you and say hello.

Finally, If you have not heard, WACOSA is asking that facemasks be donated in anticipation of what we believe will be stricter guidelines for operating once we resume operations.  It is likely many of the procedures currently in place by order of Governor Walz (i.e. PPE, social distancing etc.) will remain in effect well into the future. Given this likelihood, WACOSA is stockpiling as many masks as we can right now in order to make efficient use of this downtime.  Anyone with the ability and equipment to sew, along with the time to devote to the effort is invited to help by sewing masks for WACOSA’s future service needs.  Thanks to all of our supporters who have made masks for us thus far. To date, we have received in excess of 150 masks dropped in our donation basket outside our 310 building (next to our ThriftWorks! store entrance) in Waite Park.  As a reminder, masks can be dropped off Monday – Thursday, 9:00am – 1:00pm.

For now, please continue to stay healthy and safe.  As requested by our health experts, stay home as much as possible to prevent the spread of the COVID-19.  All of us here at WACOSA continue to wish you the best and hope for a speedy end to the current pandemic.

April 3rd, 2020

To:  All WACOSA stakeholders

From:  Steve Howard, Executive Director

Re:  Update on WACOSA’s services

We hope everyone is well and continuing to follow the Governor’s order to remain home and “shelter in place” as much as possible to protect our community from the spread of the current pandemic.  As we shared in our March 27 memo, we feel it is important to provide occasional updates regarding WACOSA’s plans to manage the current COVID-19 crisis.  Unfortunately, our earlier hoped-for deadline of April 6, 2020 to continue our services will not be possible.  In keeping with the advice of our state and federal authorities, WACOSA will remain closed until further notice. We will resume services again as we receive guidance that doing so will not jeopardize the health and well-being of our clients, staff, stakeholders and/or community.

Please continue to monitor WACOSA’s various points of social media including our website (www.wacosa.org), our Facebook page and our recorded phone line for the most up-to-date information we can share regarding our services at this time.   If you prefer, our informational email is also available at info@wacosa.org.

Thank you.

March 27th, 2020

To:  All WACOSA stakeholders

From:  Steve Howard, Executive Director

Re:  Update on current response to COVID-19

WACOSA appreciates the effort all of the individuals we serve, our staff and our stakeholders are expending to deal with the many complex issues presented by the current COVID-19 crisis. We feel it important to provide occasional updates regarding WACOSA’s plans to manage this issue as concerns deepen and persist.  Beginning Friday, March 27, 2020, we will be honoring Governor Walz’s most recent directive to stay at home or “shelter in place”, to do our part to protect our community and stop the spread of this pandemic.  This means that all WACOSA offices will be closed entirely to both staff and the public.  Aside from our need to sustain a few administrative functions, staff will be unavailable to take calls or receive visitors during normal office hours.  Those staff whose duties allow may work remotely for a period.  Additionally, until further notice, both our ThriftWorks! and DocuShed businesses will be closed with tentative reopening dates of April 13, 2020.  This includes both our DocuShred storefront, as well as our shred pick-up services.

In spite of the immediate challenges, WACOSA continues to do its best to respond to the needs of our community.  Many of our direct support professionals are continuing to work in group homes during this time.  This allows the people we serve to continue receiving supports from the safety of their own homes, while also allowing many of our staff to earn their same wages and benefits, and granting residential providers much-needed help.  We continue to hold a weekly conference call with many of our key residential providers to collaborate whenever possible.  Our sincerest respect goes out to all of our residential providers right now who are doing their best under very difficult circumstances.

WACOSA staff who have questions related to their individual employment situation should contact HR Director, Sandie Westergren at swestergren@wacosa.org or 320-257-5181.  If you are unable to reach her, please leave a message and she will return your call as soon as possible.

We understand how difficult our being closed continues to be for persons served, families and residential providers.   We thank you for your hard work and partnering with us during this unprecedented time in our history.  Please continue to follow the guidance of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH – http://www.health.state.mn.us/),  the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO – WHO).  Since this remains a rapidly evolving situation, please continue to monitor WACOSA’s various points of social media including our website (www.wacosa.org), our Facebook page and our recorded phone line for the most up-to-date information we can share regarding the current state of WACOSA’s services.  You may also contact our informational email at info@wacosa.org.

We appreciate this time continues to be filled with uncertainty and concern. The many kind emails, calls and positive messages we have received from so many of you have been much appreciated.  Rest assured we would resume services once we receive guidance by our state and federal authorities that doing so will not jeopardize the health and well-being of our clients, staff, stakeholders and/or community. Thank you for your support and patience during this time.  I am confident we will get through this COVID-19 crisis soon and will be stronger for our efforts and for the great partnerships we have forged during this time.

March 18th, 2020

Hello WACOSA Stakeholder:

The link below is a reference on Plain Language Information on Coronavirus.  Please feel free to use this document to share information related to preventing the spread of COVID-19 with those you support.  This document was created by Green Mountain Self-Advocates in  Montpelier, Vermont (http://www.gmsavt.org/) At this time we hope everyone remains safe and is engaged as possible in stopping the spread of this disease.

Plain-Language-Information-on-Coronavirus

MARCH 17th, 1:30 PM.

To:  All WACOSA stakeholders

From:  Steve Howard, Executive Director

Re:  Temporarily closing our services

In light of the recent Coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns, WACOSA will be closing all Center-Based Day Services at all locations as of Thursday, March 19, 2020, with a tentative reopening date of April 6, 2020.  However, we wish to emphasize this date is tentative.  With the constantly evolving COVID-19 health care crisis, we ask that you monitor WACOSA’s website (www.wacosa.org) or phone line (320-251-0087) for the most up-to-date information on current and future WACOSA services.  We will work individually with persons served, families, case managers, group homes, and guardians to determine a plan for people that cannot be safe at home during the day. WACOSA is dedicated to continuing to provide services so that people are safe. If this is the case for you or your family member, please contact your WACOSA supervisor or case manager as soon as possible.

At this time, we have not been notified of any confirmed cases of exposure to COVID-19 here at WACOSA. However, anyone who is at higher risk based on guidance from the CDC (guidance from the CDC) should immediately stay home and contact their medical professional should they be experiencing flu-like symptoms. WACOSA’s offices in Waite Park, St. Cloud and Sauk Center that support our services will be closed to the public.

Closure will mean that clients will not be working at their respective community work sites.  WACOSA leadership is currently engaged in determining how best to meet the needs of employers during the current health care crisis.

We understand that closure may be a hardship for families and residential providers, but think this step is best in order to support the health and safety of persons served, as well as our many staff, stakeholders and the community, in general. We are following the guidance of the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Human Services, and our disability trade association. Please keep in mind this is a rapidly evolving situation and the information contained in this letter may change in the future. We appreciate this is a time filled with uncertainty and concern.  Rest assured WACOSA remains dedicated to protecting and balancing the mental, physical and safety needs of everyone we support.

You will be able to find the most current WACOSA status on our website and Facebook pages, along with our recorded phone line. Any significant changes to the information in this notice will be posted in those places and/or emailed via our email list. If you have additional questions, please contact info@wacosa.org.  I am also available to answer questions during this time on my cell phone at (320) 292-9319.

Thank you for your support and patience during this time.  I am confident we will get through this difficult time and emerge strong after.

MARCH 15th, 2020 – 2:40 PM.

WACOSA remains open at all program sites. Please note that our situation may change rapidly and we ask that you check back regularly to our webpage, www.wacosa.org and click on the yellow bar on the top titled, “WACOSA & Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update,” the News Section of our webpage, or at WACOSA’s Facebook page for updates.   We are in close communication with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, our trade associations, and our peer providers regarding service delivery, and we will continue to follow guidelines and/or mandates established by the Minnesota Department of Health and other health agencies. For WACOSA staff, clients, guardians and group homes, we respectfully ask that if you are ill you refrain from coming to WACOSA. 

March 13, 2020 — As we continue to monitor the challenges presented by Coronavirus, we wish to keep you posted on what we are doing at WACOSA to remain as proactive as possible and to adjust to this continually changing situation.  Please keep in mind our effort to keep you posted is designed to educate you, which will hopefully help you remain informed, while at the same time preventing you from feeling anxious or fearful of the current situation:

  • We are making available all Memo’s related to Coronavirus on our website (www.wacosa.org), with a link to our Facebook page directing folks to these memos, as well.
  • We are meeting with our key residential facilities next week (week of the 16th) to discuss protocols we can implement to promote a consistent response between work and home to be as proactive as possible in our coordinated response to the current situation.
  • We are stepping up our maintenance effort by changing out the air filters more frequently in our HVAC systems at all of our service locations in an effort to promote cleaner air throughout WACOSA, to address Coronavirus concerns, in addition to suppressing various allergens that might be present. 
  • We are continuing our deep cleaning efforts, most specifically areas of WACOSA that experience frequent hand contact (i.e. key boards, doorknobs, computers etc.)
  • We have instituted ultraviolet light disinfecting processes to clean IT equipment (i.e. IPads) that our clients use regularly.
  • We have instituted additional training for staff and clients to promote social distancing, health and wellness, in addition to increasing/respecting personal space. 
  • Our maintenance team has instituted disinfecting procedures of the interior of all WACOSA vehicles multiple times a week.
  • Timers have been installed in bathrooms to improve handwashing procedures for clients and staff.
  • We continue to assess appropriate environments for community outings to take place.
  • WACOSA has designated additional places away from program areas that are designated as sick rooms where individuals can be removed from their colleagues, should signs or symptoms of illness develop.  In like manner, staff will be asked to remain home if they are feeling ill, with corresponding testing/quarantine imposed prior to returning to work, as a particular situation may require.
  • We have begun dialogue with area employers, with whom WACOSA provides services or does business to keep them mindful of the plans and potential restrictions that could be imposed upon WACOSA workers or work crews, as any specific situation may require. 

In addition to these, in addition to earlier mentioned steps, we will continue to monitor the situation and implement our Emergency Response Plan as needed to address this developing concern.  We continue to ask that you locate travel notices and guidance on precautionary measures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Minnesota Department of Health ( http://www.health.state.mn.us/) and the World Health Organization (WHO).  Also, feel free to call me at (320)257-5180 or email at showard@wacosa.org if I can answer additional questions. We will continue to keep you updated with any significant changes to this situation via memos and on our website.

–  Steve H., Executive Director, WACOSA