Home > Uncategorized > Guardians and two group-home providers say no to day program re-openings due to COVID-19 risk

Guardians and two group-home providers say no to day program re-openings due to COVID-19 risk

While Governor Baker has given the go-ahead to the reopening of day programs for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Massachusetts, at least two group home providers are either declining to send residents to the programs or recommending that they not go until a COVID-19 vaccine is found.

Two guardians also told us they won’t sign a form that day programs have been issuing at the administration’s direction that would absolve the providers of liability should any of the clients become infected.

The release form has been issued by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), according to a residential and day program provider to the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

Neither DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder nor DDS Ombudsman Chris Klaskin responded to a query from COFAR last week about both the release form and the safety of reopening the day programs.

Thrive and NRS both recommending not to send residents to reopened day programs

In a July 23 email to guardians and family members, an executive officer with Thrive Support & Advocacy, a DDS residential provider, stated that they had concluded that “the day program environment poses too much of a health risk to our Thrivers and staff at this time.”

The email from Denise Vojackova-Karami, vice president of developmental services, added that the planned August 3 day program re-openings would “negate the precautions we have taken thus far. This decision was not made lightly, and we will revisit it if Massachusetts virus numbers continue to decline.”

Meanwhile, Scott Kluge, director of Northeast Residential Services (NRS), a regional DDS manager of state-run group homes, stated in a July 20 message to guardians that “it is our preference that our residents do not immediately rush back to their day programs.” Kluge said NRS “would feel more comfortable …if there is a universally accepted vaccine in place” first.

Kluge maintained that NRS has an additional concern about safely transporting residents to their day programs “as there is really no way to maintain social distance while in a van.” He added that “several families have already reached out to us expressing the same concerns.”

The release form, which was reportedly drafted by a provider trade association at the direction of EOHHS, asks that guardians:

…acknowledge the contagious nature of COVID-19 and voluntarily assume the risk that you or your loved one may be exposed to or infected by COVID-19 by attending a (provider-run day) Program, and that such exposure or infection may result in personal injury, illness, permanent disability, and possibly even death. You understand that this risk may result from the actions, omissions or negligence by you or your loved one, any employee, and/or other clients at the program.

Ryder has not commented

In a July 23 email to DDS Commissioner Ryder and Ombudsman Klaskin, COFAR posed a series of questions about the safety of the day programs and the need for the release form. Among our questions were the following:

  • Do you agree that in attending day programs, DDS clients face an increased risk of contracting COVID-19?
  • What is your understanding of the meaning of “voluntarily assuming the risk” of being exposed to or contracting the virus?
  • Is this agreement intended to hold day program providers harmless from lawsuits and to shift responsibility to a third party?
  • What happens if a guardian or family member declines to sign the agreement?
  • Is the agreement a de facto admission that day programs are unsafe right now?
  • Will all day provider staff be tested weekly?
  • What specific transportation plans will be implemented to protect the clients?
  • Will masks be mandatory in day programs? The agreement states only that masks are recommended.
  • How will clients without guardianship or representatives be responsible for signing a legal document?
  • Why is there an apparent rush to open day programs when clients are still largely being quarantined in their group homes?

As noted, neither Ryder nor Klaskin have responded to the July 23 query. Ryder and Klaskin have also not responded to previous questions from us about the scope of the DDS COVID-19 testing program in the DDS system.

Guardian says release form presents a false and dangerous choice

Neil Ferris, whose brother Eugene is a resident of a Thrive group home, said his brother had been attending a day program in Northborough operated by the Justice Resource Institute (JRI) for more than seven years.  Ferris termed it a “well run program with good staff and a full-time nurse.”

He added that the day program provided “a very important outing each day for socializing, having relationship with others and enjoying some fun activities..” But he is concerned that the program opens up interactions with clients from many other Metro West locations, and “raises the concern of virus transmittal.”

Without a mask requirement, Ferris maintained, the day program arrangement “places all at risk. If a client cannot wear a mask for a number of reasons, that client should not attend the program.”

Ferris said that while his 66-year-old brother needs the day program to stay active mentally and enjoy a life outside of his room at his house, “JRI places us in a terrible position. If I don’t sign (the release form), I deprive my brother of a good life. If I do sign it, I place my brother at serious risk with his many underlying health issues as almost all other clients have.”

While Andy Pond, JRI’s pesident and CEO, told COFAR that JRI would provide remote activities for clients if guardians declined to sign the release form, Ferris doesn’t believe that will be the case. “JRI cannot and will not provide any ‘at-home’ resources for those who do not sign,” he wrote in an email to us.

Ferris said he believes that JRI and other day program providers are placing their financial concerns ahead of their clients’ safety.  “They should not open day programs until such time as they can safely protect their clients, and they should eliminate the legal release absolving them of any responsibility.”

Ferris said he believes Thrive has determined that their clients should not attend day programs “because it is way to soon, safety protocols at JRI are insufficient, and some clients lack the capability to follow safety guidelines.”

Pond maintained that “our (day program reopening) process has been careful and deliberative, and we have proceeded according to the best information we have access to.”

Mother says daughter would be at risk 

The mother of an NRS group home resident said she agrees with NRS  that it will only be safe for her daughter to go back to her day program after a vaccine is developed. She said she is not only concerned about safe distancing at the day program and on the transportation van, but her daughter could not tolerate a mask for that amount of  time.

“I think asking parents and guardians to sign a waiver is ridiculous,” the client’s mother said. “That waiver would absolve them of any responsibility.”

We fully support the positions of those residential providers and guardians who think it would be best to wait for the development of a vaccine before opening day programs for DDS clients. And we support those guardians who are refusing to sign a form absolving the day program providers of liability.

What does DDS think about all of this? We don’t know. As far as we can tell, Commissioner Ryder has not even put any information for guardians and family members about the day program situation on the Department’s website.

What families and guardians need right now is information and leadership from DDS and the administration in general, and it doesn’t appear they’re getting it.

  1. Anonymous
    July 29, 2020 at 6:43 pm

    Day programs and transportation providers are under strict standards they have to conform to in order to open. No one in a day program wants to see their participants or staff be in an unsafe environment and contract this virus. Protocols have been set up in every aspect of the day, from if you can enter the building, where people are sitting, which bathroom someone is assigned to, to sanitizing surfaces several times a day and what to do if someone starts showing symptoms if they are at the program. Everyone has a choice whether they feel comfortable in attending or waiting. Same as if you as an individual feel comfortable going to a grocery store or sending your kids to school. I has to sign a paper when I went to get my haircut saying I acknowledge the risks I was taking being there.


    • Anonymous
      July 29, 2020 at 9:31 pm

      Not the same thing at all!


  2. Anonymous
    July 31, 2020 at 5:52 am

    As EOHHS has not released its face to face guidelines and each office (DDS, DMH, MRC) remains closed. They silently acknowledge that the situation is not safe, yet they open day-programs and will let site-level staff experiment with self-attestation. Excuse the cliche, but it’s a recipe for disaster. There have been at least 17 deaths out of our local office and they’re preparing for more. Furthermore, some agencies have taken PPP loans AND laid off staff while others force staff to resign if they did not feel safe returning. It’s a mess and the state should step in. Letting desperate organizations self-attest is dangerous.


  3. Richard P Faucher
    August 1, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    Who is this person DDS Ombudsman Chris Klaskin? Maybe I missed the boat, but I would like to know more about this person, where they came from, and what is their actual duties. Anyone have any background on Mr. Klaskin?



    • August 1, 2020 at 3:04 pm

      Richard, in response to your question, it would probably be more accurate to call Chris Klaskin a spokesman for DDS. His official title is ombudsman, but the term “ombudsman” implies a certain level of independence from an agency. It doesn’t appear, though, that Klaskin speaks independently of DDS. However, because of his title, we did try to contact him for comment on the reopening of the day programs. The fact that he declined to respond appears to offer further confirmation that he is not in an independent position. Bottom line, Klaskin is not an ombudsman, but rather a spokesman.


      • Richard P Faucher
        August 1, 2020 at 6:32 pm

        Thanks, David

        Looks like that is a cost the dept could do without. I have never seen any correspondence, publication, or heard of his contacting legislatures on behalf of the dept by him. Maybe it’s an inside public relations position.


  4. Alicemarie Lesch
    November 21, 2020 at 10:32 am

    The newest strict rules are just horrible for any parent that we aren’t allow to hug our child or give them a kiss on their cheek & 30 minute visit’s is how beneficial to who? Espically when all of us are tested before we can enter the group home?


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