Reopening Plans: The Arc Mercer Shines Bright in the Realm of Para-Transportation

Every day, we are making strides in our plan to reopen our in-person programs and services. In fact, members of our administrative team participate in weekly calls with other provider agencies’ administrative teams throughout the state to share ideas and best practices.

While every agency certainly has its strengths, The Arc Mercer is proud to say that our plans for our reopening in regard to transportation have been touted across the state. These plans have been used as a blueprint for other agencies after we were appointed to a subcommittee on para-transportation safety.

We have invested in significant safety measures to ensure that our vehicles are as safe as possible for transporting our consumers.

Not only are we implementing strict social distancing by cutting our capacity by 50%, but we have also installed vinyl dividers between passenger seats. This is in addition to implementing extensive symptom monitoring measures and sanitizing efforts.

The Arc Mercer’s transportation team never fails to deliver top notch results when given a task and is certainly gaining a reputation for having a team of incredibly motivated and talented individuals who want to make our agency the best it can possibly be. We are proud to have been able to encourage others to follow our lead and our practices to not only serve the consumers of The Arc Mercer, but agencies across the state as well.



Day Program … But Make it Virtual!

This pandemic has presented everyone with a tremendous amount of change. Most notably, the in-person interactions we once enjoyed every day have been limited, restricted, or canceled altogether. While there is no one who can say that they have not been affected, the I/DD community may have been impacted the most.

Many of our consumers rely on the services provided by The Arc Mercer for their regular social interactions and community inclusion. With the closing of DDD in-person programing back in March, our consumers were left without the opportunity to see their friends, their program leaders, and their regular connection to the community. One consumer, Andrew, told us that when the day program closed he felt, “Sad ... I missed the place ... I missed all of my friends.” It was hard for him to keep in touch with his friends who lived far away.

Luckily, The Arc Mercer team has begun a Virtual Day Program. Now, Andrew is able to connect with all of the friends he missed!

Every day, our consumers are able to log in and participate in modified versions of their favorite classes and activities—and even some lessons that are completely new! Kirk Ponton, Senior Community Engagement Manager, said that during this virtual programing, he has learned a lot about his team. “As a team, we can all do something special. I like to encourage people to do what they like to do and I think this is a perfect opportunity for our staff to show what they can really do. It’s not about following the lesson plans that I wrote ... it’s about leading what you want to lead.”

These new lesson plans and innovations did come with a learning curve. For many of our Day Program team and consumers, it was the lack of personal touch that made the transition the more difficult. Andrew said that it was especially hard because of all of the talking at once which made him feel unheard as an individual. Kirk concurred, “Before, we were only in a classroom with ten people at most, so it was easier to find that personal connection. Now we’re engaging with roughly 40 people at once. What I miss the most is having that personal connection with those different groups throughout the week in a smaller space—and I think they miss that too.”

However, for some consumers, our Virtual Day Program has given them the opportunity to engage and participate in new ways that they haven’t been able to before.

Kirk shared this about a consumer who was not always the most engaged during in-person Day Program but has thrived during Virtual sessions: “During Day Program, we would find that some consumers would wander around or be on the phone. Virtually, they are on the computer typing in questions and answers and responding. They’re more respondent to programs than before. And, I do believe it is because they are so used to using technology. I believe they feel as though they have a bigger voice now on the computer.”

Gary Montgomery, Director of Special Day Services, confirmed these opportunities. “I personally feel the Virtual Day Program has been very beneficial to the consumers during the COVID-19 shut-down of Day Services. In many ways I have actually seen the consumers become more focused and engaged due to virtual learning. I feel the conversations are more focused and also fun with a real desire to communicate with each other.”

From creating new lessons on culture and juggling, to working to ensure that all of our consumers feel heard and supported—we strive to make our program better every day. Our efforts have been well received by the community.

One parent reported, “My son really enjoyed your sign language session today ... great stuff! I am glad he can be part of The Arc Mercer Virtual Day Program. He totally enjoyed it and was mesmerized and sat for almost an hour. He was so excited to see some familiar faces from his day program. I think his staff at his group home today did a great job by moving him to the kitchen table to help him focus and centering him so you could see him better. It’s gonna take a little adjustment time for my son and group home staff, but I can see that he is really enjoying it.”

If you are interested in having your loved one join our Day Program Community, please contact our family supports department at familysupports@arcmercer.org.



Exploring Social Distancing Technologies

The Arc Mercer team has always endeavored to remain at the forefront of all the latest measures, precautions, and technologies to keep our staff and consumers safe during this pandemic.

Earlier this year, we were among the first agencies to look into the benefits of antibody testing. Soon after, we worked with our local Departments of Health to establish an inter-agency coalition to create a space for DDD provider agencies to openly discuss and share the measures they were taking—not only to keep staff and consumers safe, but also to more quickly discover best practices that could be applied state-wide.

Now that reopening in-person Day Programs draws closer, The Arc Mercer is working with developers to explore utilizing technologies that will better allow our team to follow social distancing protocols.

One technology that looks promising is a form of geo-tracking that notifies staff if consumers come within six feet of each other for a prolonged period of time. This would allow us to accurately report whether or not social distancing protocols were being followed and diminish the risk of viral spread when coupled with PPE and proper sanitation measures.

This is incredibly exciting for The Arc Mercer, and we are honored to collaborate on such innovative and essential technologies. Efforts such as these not only benefit our staff and consumers, but have the potential to have a great impact on others. It is an integral part of our mission at The Arc Mercer to ensure the safety of the I/DD community everywhere.

While nothing is set in stone, we look forward to seeing what the near future holds, while learning more every step of the way.