Information on the Coronavirus and Persons with Developmental Disabilities

We have established this new page on our website as a resource for families seeking information about the coronavirus and how to advocate for their their loved ones in the care of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

We will be updating the page periodically.

COFAR Press Release: March 27, 2020

DDS must develop a clear coronavirus policy for residential facilities and providers

As the corona virus continues to spread in Massachusetts, the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) appears to lack a clear and consistent set of policies and plans for protecting residents in its group homes and other residential facilities.

Instead, there appears to be a patchwork of statements and sometimes contradictory policies on the DDS coronavirus website page.

We are concerned that to the extent DDS has developed policies on how residents should be cared for and what precautions should be taken by staff, those current policies would be inadequate to protect residents of any DDS-run or corporate provider-run facility should one or more of the residents become exposed to or infected by the virus.

At least one set of guidelines sent out by DDS to providers this past weekend appears to imply that residents of group homes must be removed from those facilities if even one resident becomes infected. But DDS appears to have no plan for where those residents would be taken. If residents in several homes become infected, the system could become quickly overwhelmed.

In phone contacts on Wednesday (March 25), DDS officials acknowledged the Department has no long-term plan for relocating infected residents from their residences if the pandemic becomes worse.

We are recommending to DDS that a single, comprehensive plan be developed immediately to address all contingencies in the Department’s residential system, including the possibility of removing infected residents from group homes and placing them in DDS-run hospital settings. That might involve re-purposing closed day program facilities or finding and re-purposing available space in the state’s two remaining Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs).

The guidance document noted above appears to imply that any resident of a “household”-sized facility who is suspected of even having had “close contact” with someone known to have the virus should be removed from the residence for 14 days. Group homes are effectively households. If one person does test positive for the virus, everyone else in the residence will essentially have had close contact with them. So the departmental directive would imply that if one person is exposed or is sick with the virus, everyone would need to be quarantined, meaning they would have to be taken somewhere else for 14 days.

The problem is compounded by the fact that DDS has no plans for how to remove and quarantine infected residents safely, promising only to develop them in the future.

COFAR is urging that DDS develop a single, comprehensive set of guidelines for all of DDS’s residential facilities, both state and corporate-provider-run, during the pandemic. That comprehensive policy document should be communicated in writing to all facility managers.

More information about our concerns can be found in our latest blog post at  https://cofarblog.wordpress.com/2020/03/26/dds-must-develop-a-clear-coronavirus-policy-for-residential-facilities-and-providers/.

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General information about the coronavirus and DDS

If our loved ones are lucky enough to have close relationships (and unfortunately some do not), these are existential relationships and should be taken as seriously by DDS, providers, and staff as are all other protections.

Information about positive tests

If a resident of a DDS facility tests positive, or if a resident is exposed to the coronavirus and exhibits signs of fever or respiratory infection symptoms, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat, we recommend that family members and guardians be informed immediately.

Pursuant to Massachusetts General Law, c. 19B, s. 1:

DDS shall take cognizance of all matters affecting the welfare of the persons with an intellectual disability or persons with a developmental disability.

A primary function of DDS is to make sure its residents are protected, whether in a state-operated group home, a corporate-operated group home or an Intermediate Care Facility (ICF).

DDS regulations (115 CMR s. 9) defines a “serious risk of harm” as “a significant exposure to serious physical or serious emotional injury.”

If your loved one tests positive for, or is exposed to the coronavirus, you, as a guardian, have a right to know about it.

Keeping residential facilities clean

We are recommending that DDS make every effort to ensure that:

  1. All residential facilities are relentlessly cleaned;
  1. All staff are repeatedly reminded about hand washing;
  1. Windows are kept open, weather permitting, so that the group home residents and staff are breathing fresh air;
  1. Residents are taken outside into the fresh air and sunshine, weather permitting.

Information from the Department of Developmental Services (DDS)

The following is a link to information provided about COVID-19 on the DDS website:  https://www.mass.gov/news/coronavirus-update-for-individuals-and-families

In addition, the following is a link to additional information about the virus from the Department of Public Health: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-guidance-and-directives#for-congregate-care-programs-

We have raised concerns that the information and guidance available from DDS and other state agencies is unclear and inconsistent. We are urging DDS to develop a single, comprehensive plan for all contingencies involving residents of all types of facilities in the DDS system.

You can also send questions or concerns to us by emailing either Colleen Lutkevich at collen.lutkevich@cofar.org, Thomas J. Frain, Esq. at tjf@frainlaw.com, or David Kassel at davidskassel@gmail.com. We will forward your concerns to DDS.