As I write I am aware that you are navigating your own challenges in our new world where COVID-19 is foremost in our thoughts. How life has changed in such a short time.
This article is about the impact COVID-19 is having on life here at Benjamin’s Hope, a farmstead community in Holland, Michigan, where 30 men and women affected by autism “live, work, play, and worship.” I imagine our experience of this pandemic is shared by thousands of congregate settings (or residential facilities) throughout the U.S. and Canada and beyond.
Ben’s Hope is part of a safety net that provides essential healthcare services for people who are profoundly affected by autism. For the men and women who live here, many of whom have no family, we are meeting basic needs for food, shelter, and care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Our direct care staff cannot work from home, nor can we shut down for a time.
For the men and women who live here, routines have changed. Family is not permitted to visit, and we cannot go into the community. In a population of folks with autism, change of this magnitude can be especially difficult, leading to heightened behaviors, sadness, fear, and frustration.
Our staff of nearly 100 Sidekicks continues to provide 24/7 care. Their job includes assisting with the most personal of care with limited personal protection equipment. Complying with social distancing is very difficult for many individuals at Ben’s Hope. The risk of exposure is high, even as we are vigilant in the practice of universal precautions. Many of our residents are at high risk due to age and/or medical condition. Our staff, like all healthcare workers, travel home and then back, potentially carrying the virus.
Living or working in a congregate setting in the midst of a pandemic feels a bit like swimming in a Petri dish.
Crisis planning for COVID-19 to hit, and hit hard, is sobering work. We and congregate settings everywhere stand in need of your faithful prayer.
Staff shortages are an ongoing challenge in this industry. The irony is that at a time of crisis we need more staff than usual to ensure everyone is safe, yet we find ourselves planning to be down 30 percent, 50 percent, or more. As I write Ben’s Hope is down nearly 15 percent of our workforce due to COVID-19 related issues.
For Ben’s Hope and all of us, the financial impact is yet uncertain. Like many congregate and long-term care settings, we rely on Medicaid funding, which falls woefully short when we are in good times. For nonprofits like us, giving is vitally important, and we do not know how this crisis will impact people’s ability to give.
There are good things happening, too! Our amazing Sidekicks arrive for work with a smile. By showing up they demonstrate the love of Jesus. They are brave, joyful, and called. Bikes came out of storage early and one resident exclaimed, “Yippee! I get to ride my bike early this year!” The Church of Ben’s Hope, usually attended by 150 people, has not met in over a month. Yet our simple video-cast service on Facebook was viewed by 1,615 people on a recent Sunday. And today over 500 people joined our live-streaming daily devotions. In the midst of a shutdown God is expanding his reach!
One of my coworkers referred to this pandemic as a “reset.” I love this. This “resets” my reliance on God for the safety of staff and residents, people I love. This “resets” my gratitude for the community of people who love and support us. This “resets” my awareness of what is important and what is not.
May God's favor and blessing cover us all this day and in the days to come.
Krista Mason is executive director of Benjamin's Hope, a residential farmstead community in Holland, Michigan. This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 Benjamin's Hope newsletter.