As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers in Leon County, altering the livelihood of many, Tallahassee’s most vulnerable citizens feel the wrath of its effects. Local group homes were forced to adjust to life during the midst of the pandemic to adhere to federal COVID-19 regulations.
“The safety of my clients comes first during these unstable times,” said Nathalie Thomas, owner of The Thomas House. “I serve amazing people who are intellectually and physically disabled. Some of my clients are unaware of the current pandemic and it is my job to protect them. They have had to adjust to life indoors which is challenging for some of them. However, their survival is what is imperative in these times.”
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), patients with intellectual and physical disabilities are six times more likely to die from COVID-19 than other people. The coronavirus has a major impact on people with preexisting conditions and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have a higher prevalence of preexisting conditions.
Clients who live at group homes often rely on programs that teach them basic life skills and get them connected with the outside. Some clients simply relied on basic activities such as walking around in a park to connect with others.
However, after the onset of COVID-19, many clients have been unable to have those connections.
“I really missed being able to go to Lake Ella and see the birds swim in the lake,” said April McMahon, a client at The Thomas House. “Now because of the pandemic, I feel like I am inside of the house more than usual. I like being outside because it helps me feel better when I am depressed. But, I understand that it is safer inside the house and I am scared to die.”
Gaming and television consumption have increased among clients as a result of the pandemic.
“The clients used to rely on programs and visitation to get out of the house,” said Linda Scott, a caretaker at The Thomas House. “Now they are so bored they watch TV a lot. I try to keep them engaged with games and fun activities I can think of. We serve some clients that have behavioral problems and if their mind is not occupied they often exhibit bad behaviors. I do my best to cope with the current times and I am proud to say that none of the clients I serve have caught COVID to my knowledge.”
Unlike The Thomas House, other group homes in Tallahassee have not been lucky during the pandemic. Tallahassee Developmental Center (TDC) has reported at least 80 positive cases among staff and residents.
Residents in local group homes age 12 and up are now eligible to get vaccinated in Florida.