SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — As COVID-19 spreads through elder care facilities and group homes across the country, JESPY House remains coronavirus free among its clients and residents. And Audrey Winkler aims to keep it that way. JESPY House is a South Orange-based non-profit which provides support services to some 260 local adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Winkler, JESPY’s executive director, said that planning and diligence is key to keeping everyone healthy. 

“We made a lot of good decisions in mid-March. When everything looked like it was going to get really bad, a lot of our families took clients home with them to shelter in place and be safe. The remaining [live-in] clients [are] in a beautiful shared house.”

The South Orange home was purchased in early March after receiving variance approvals to build a small addition for an interior elevator for the three story home. Originally, the plan was to complete the work before moving residents in. But with coronavirus concerns rising, the clients moved about March 16, before the construction could begin. Eight residents are now living in the six-bedroom home; two staff members per shift are there to support them 24/7, Winkler said.

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“They’re doing beautifully,” Winkler said. “Our nurse has been unbelievable. She developed an in-service training video for all of [the staff]. And we have put into place procedures where staff coming in have their temperatures taken,” she said, and are asked questions about potential symptoms; they spray Lysol on their coats before they enter the house along with other disinfection procedures as well. “We have very strict standards.”

The clients’ temperatures are monitored at least twice a day, Winkler said. “Our nurse is really very vigilant.” By putting these procedures in place early on during the crisis, no one has gotten sick yet. “Thank God everyone is okay.”

JESPY also supports many clients who live on their own in the area. The in-person day programs may be canceled, but “we are still providing a lot of online connection” for them, said Winkler, offering “a broad range of activities” from meditation and discussion groups to knitting and art lessons. 

And the clients are still getting case management services as well. JESPY is offering tele-health therapy and group therapy sessions online, “to keep our clients healthy and engaged.” 

Parents of adult clients are able to access clinical services such as individual counseling as well. A lot of clients have not lived at home in a while, Winkler said, and both parents and adult children may be going through adjustment challenges. “There might be anxiety, there might be conflict resolution issues,” she offered. She’s been writing and sending out a family update weekly as well. 

And in or out of a group living arrangement, the clients are trying to stay safe and healthy. “They understand very well how serious this is,” Winkler said. “They are wearing masks and gloves when they go out. We’ve been working with them” to keep them engaged while staying in, she said. “So far, so good, we’ve got our fingers crossed. You can’t anticipate from one day to the next.”