Suspended day programs will be tough for adults with intellectual disabilities and families, says advocate

Suspending programs for adults with intellectual disabilities amid Manitoba’s worsening COVID-19 situation will be a tough blow, one advocate says.

“That is their world during the day,” said David Kron, executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba and a spokesperson for Barrier-Free Manitoba.

“It’s their peer group. It’s like me when I come to the office to work.”

On Friday, the province announced all day services funded by Community Living Disability Services in Winnipeg will be suspended for two weeks starting Monday. 

That change came as officials released modelling that showed Manitoba’s daily COVID-19 case counts and the number of patients with the illness ending up in intensive care units are exceeding the province’s most extreme projected scenarios for the third wave.

And as the impact of the illness spreads further through Manitoba, it’s been hitting day programs too, deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said on a Saturday call with reporters.

“There have been some cases within those groups and there’s been a lot of named contacts as well, just from the nature of the work that’s done there,” which often includes group or one-on-one activities, he said.

“Because these are clients with disabilities and they are high-needs … it was felt that it would be best to go and halt that program for a two-week period.”

Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s deputy chief provincial public health officer, announced on Friday that day services in Winnipeg will shut down for two weeks starting Monday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Atwal said families affected have been “heavily involved” in the province’s decision to pause the programs. There could still be exceptions made in situations where people’s safety can’t be managed in residential care or at home during the day, he said.

Manitoba Families continues to support moving day service and transportation staff to where people live, Atwal said. Those being supported at home will be encouraged to use virtual meetings and other technology to stay connected with friends and family, he said.

A provincial spokesperson on Saturday was not able to say how many people will be affected by the paused services.

Kron said he only found out about the halted day programs — which range from social groups in which adults with intellectual disabilities can spend a day with friends, to settings that give them work experience — shortly before the province announced it on Friday.

He said that didn’t give families who count on those services for support during the day much time to come up with a backup plan.

“It’s hard when you’ve only got a weekend to figure out Plan B,” he said.

Social opportunities, respite care

That scenario is all too familiar for Wendy Claydon-Preteau. While some day programs are just now being paused, others — like the one her daughter, Kristen Claydon, went to every weekday — were cancelled more than a year ago.

Claydon-Preteau got the call delivering that news 14 months ago.

“It was a surprise to us all,” she said. “It was very short notice, but we just tried to hold on and make do and keep everybody safe.”

Claydon-Preteau said her 25-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy, still hasn’t been able to go back to her day program.

Wendy Claydon-Preteau says she and her daughter, Kristen Claydon, will be excited once the province resumes day services that have been put on hold by the pandemic. (Wendy Claydon-Preteau/Zoom)

Losing that service has meant less independence for both of them, Claydon-Preteau said, with her daughter stuck at home and in need of more care during the day. She said they’ll both be glad when all day services start back up again.

“It’ll be wonderful for her. She’ll be able to leave the house and resume some of her normal day, be around people that she enjoys spending time with and chatting with,” Claydon-Preteau said.

Day services eventually coming back will also mean more respite for caregivers like her, she said.

Kron, who also has cerebral palsy, said day services provide crucial support for adults with intellectual disabilities and their families — and as more Manitobans get vaccinated against COVID-19, he hopes they return soon.

“I’m just praying that this thing’s over soon and that everybody gets their shot and … we eliminate the barriers that are out there,” he said.

As of Saturday afternoon, just over half of Manitoba’s adult population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.