Among the essential workers who place their own health at risk to serve others during the COVID-19 crisis are the direct support professionals and other employees at Damariscotta-based Mobius Inc., who continue to care for their clients daily.
The nonprofit serves individuals with disabilities through activities, job training, and other programs at its headquarters in Damariscotta and 11 other locations, which include apartment buildings and eight group homes where some of its 143 clients live.
Mobius has had to stop or scale back many programs due to the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
However, Mobius remains open and available for support 24/7 and direct support professionals continue to provide essential services, like staffing group homes, grocery shopping, and helping clients access health care, according to Executive Director Rebecca “Becca” Emmons.
“We are open no matter what,” Emmons said in a phone interview March 30.
Emmons said that on March 16, the day after the first COVID-19 case was announced in Lincoln County and local schools and businesses began closing, Mobius employees acted quickly and implemented a plan in two days to continue providing essential services to clients.
“We were actually able to take a plan that had been a five-day outline and turn it around in two, so I’m infinitely impressed so far with everyone’s flexibility and willingness to do whatever we need to do to keep people safe,” Emmons said.
All of Mobius’ in-person community support programs, which include karate and woodworking classes, stopped March 18 and employee schedules were rearranged to fit a new “neighborhood model” designed for harm reduction.
Employees who would previously travel between towns to serve clients can now only travel to a work site in the same “neighborhood.”
“That reduces their risk exposure (and) decreases the number of locations and individuals they’re coming into contact with. It also creates an element of protection and risk reduction around the clients who are living in the home,” Emmons said.
She said she appreciates the willingness of Mobius staff to change their schedules and work more flexible hours during the COVID-19 crisis.
Emmons said strict cleaning and sanitizing practices were already in place in the industry, but Mobius has “ramped them up significantly.” Employees and clients practice physical distancing whenever possible.
Emmons acknowledged that in Mobius group homes, some clients’ disabilities make it hard for direct support professionals to maintain physical distancing at all times.
“The realities of the work in personal care, due to the nature of some of our clients’ disabilities, they don’t understand what social distancing requires. … I believe the front-line staff are doing their absolute best,” Emmons said.
Emmons said Mobius began teaching clients at the beginning of March about physical distancing, such as keeping at least 6 feet away from others and not hugging or shaking hands.
Rick Skoglund, a direct support professional who works at a Mobius residence in Wiscasset, said physical distancing presents the challenge of social isolation for clients, just like it does for everyone else.
Skoglund said a typical day with his clients would consist of attending day programs at the Mobius community center in Damariscotta and then going out and engaging in various activities. This schedule is no longer possible in the era of physical distancing.
“It’s a big change for some people that have had the same routine for 10 or 15 years. What we have to do is come across that this is a new plan, that this is the way we’re doing things for a while … but it’s not the same,” Skoglund said.
In recent days, many Mobius staffers have learned how to use videoconferencing technology to connect clients to their friends and families without having to leave their residence.
“We spent 10 minutes the other night with a client’s mom and it clearly made a difference in his evening,” Skoglund said.
Skoglund stressed the importance of physical distancing, citing his 34 years as an emergency medical technician. He said the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything he’s ever seen.
“This is an unseen enemy … You just don’t know, so you have to take every precaution possible,” Skoglund said.
He said one person does the grocery shopping for the house each week and he does not let anyone who is not a client or staff member enter the house. Packages and medication are left outside the door. All surfaces in the house are sanitized throughout the day.
“The primary concern here is the safety and the welfare of the clients. We put that first,” Skoglund said.
Mobius is developing a virtual community connections program that will allow for structured client activities to resume remotely. Emmons said she expects this program to be in place within the next two weeks.
Emmons said communication is critical. She hosts calls every Tuesday at noon with staff, board members, clients, and family members to provide updates and coping strategies.
George and Carol Tattan, members of the Mobius Inc. Board of Directors and parents of a longtime Mobius client, said Emmons and the entire staff at Mobius have been exceptional in communicating and responding to the current challenges.
George Tattan said in a phone interview March 31 that Emmons has been communicating on an almost daily basis with all Mobius staff, clients, and clients’ families.
Jay Tattan, George and Carol Tattan’s son, has been a client of Mobius for 10 years and currently works at Hannaford Supermarket in Damariscotta.
Carol Tattan said her son is taking the strictest precautions during and after work to prevent infection.
George Tattan said his son misses the day programs and socializing Mobius provided for clients. But he said Jay Tattan and others have been communicating by phone and FaceTime to keep in touch in the meantime.
George and Carol Tattan both commended the outstanding efforts of Emmons and all the staff at Mobius.
“In the group homes, the staff are so dedicated. … The staff in the office are on top of it all. They’re reaching out there to make sure everybody’s safe. And they’re not just worrying about their clients; they’re worrying about the staff,” Carol Tattan said.
George Tattan suggested that supporters consider donating part or all of their incoming $1,200 federal stimulus check, if they don’t need it, to Mobius, especially to provide extra compensation for employees at this time. He said donors could specify the use of their donations.
To learn more, call 563-3511 or go to mobiusinc.org.