Heroes on the Frontline

Julia Hood, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, NCSP

I would like to recognize the team at the Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning for the work they’ve done during the pandemic.  The essential services they provide have helped so many families and the team has been so flexible with all of the changes to services during this time. We really have the most amazing team at the Pingree Center.

Pre-COVID, our executive team had multiple conversations about some of the challenges associated with working at the Center.  Our team loves the clients they serve and their families. They get to see so much progress with the children they work with and they form amazing relationships with the kids.  They also work with many clients who have challenging behavior and they come to work every day knowing they may get hit, kicked, pinched, etc.    They are staying neutral and not reacting even when they do get hit, pinched, or bitten.  In some situations, they are helping children as old as teenagers to potty train.  Our staff have a hard, but very rewarding job.

The pandemic added another level of complexity for our staff.  Based on Governor Herbert’s dismissal of schools, we made the decision to dismiss the Pingree Center also.  We are not a school, we are a day treatment facility, but our size and structure look a lot like a school, so it made sense to close for the safety of our clients and staff.  When we dismissed, we offered in-home services to any families who wanted to continue to access treatment for their child.  In order to provide these services, we had to rely on our staff to be flexible and change service models to in-home instead of center-based.  They are used to being in a classroom environment with other staff with them to support.  It can be a bit intimidating to be alone as a provider and even more so when you are in the client’s home.

Our staff were amazing in making the shift.  Center leadership provided training for staff to prepare them for in-home services, changes in documentation, and expectations for working at home.  The staff had one day to get trained, familiarize themselves with the clients they would be working with, and prepare treatment materials.  Day two, they went into the homes and started providing services.  The staff made this shift seamlessly.  As the pandemic went on and we monitored the numbers in Utah, we made the decision to start re-opening small high acuity classes.  Staff started shifting back to the center, again, almost seamlessly.  They have worked with kids who have struggled with the change in their routines and environments.  Some of the clients have come back with even more intense behaviors or completely new behaviors.  The service our staff is providing is lifechanging and priceless to the clients and families.  We have parents bringing their children back and telling us about how much they regressed since being out of the center, how difficult their behaviors were to manage, and how much their child missed coming to the Center.

In addition to the staff in our autism classrooms, our Pingree daycare staff have also had to shift significantly.  Many of our daycare children started staying home when the pandemic hit, but a need arose for healthcare workers to have childcare for their children when schools dismissed.  Our staff shifted to open a new daycare specifically for healthcare workers.  This can be intimidating to know you might be having some level of exposure if the parents are hospital workers working with COVID-19.  The team had to prepare to work with children older than the ages they were used to, grouping different ages together, and meeting the developmental needs of all of the children.  The staff stepped up and provided high-quality childcare services for these children.  It was amazing to watch how they adapted and overcame barriers.

All of the staff at the Pingree Center have done an amazing job being flexible and adapting to the changes in services for our clients with autism and our childcare services.  They did all of this while managing their own experience with the pandemic and how it is affecting them personally.  I know we had a number of staff struggling with their own mental health, fear of getting COVID-19, and personal things they are dealing with.  Our staff are heroes during this pandemic and are providing essential services for individuals with disabilities and children of healthcare workers.  They have gone above and beyond to do whatever it takes to serve those who need it right now.  If you are a staff member at the Pingree Center, please know how much you are appreciated for the work you do!