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A much-needed transition during the pandemic

December 1, 2020 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette online article

A much-needed transition during the pandemic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

During the last eight months, we have witnessed the deaths of so many people with disabilities as a result of COVID-19. The percentage of people in institutions is significantly higher than those living with their families or within small community-based homes. The reason is very simple: size does matter.

As a nationally based nonprofit providing housing and employment for persons with disabilities, we have had less than 5% of our employees test positive; about 7% people with disabilities within our care contract the virus; and less than .017% pass away. While the fact that of our 4,085 people, seven have passed away (at an average age of 65), it still speaks volumes against the numbers who have passed away in Pennsylvania institutions (14%) or New York institutions (16%).

This high level of morbidity is due to the fact that there are too many people crammed into too-close quarters. Again, this is based on what has been reported by these states. In Texas, for example, they have stopped reporting. This lack of reporting has resulted in three senators writing the federal government for better reporting. The truth is that if you cannot obtain contemporary information, you cannot plan for the management of the care.

In Pennsylvania, we know that thousands of people with developmental disabilities still remain warehoused in institutions.

There is irrefutable, ostensible proof that persons with disabilities can live in the community and be employed. We have, for example, people within our care who are essential employees who had previously resided in a Pennsylvania institution. They are taxpayers, not tax burdens. They practice social distancing and they enjoy life better wearing a mask than being confined within an institution.

The Wolf administration needs to facilitate greater placements from these large facilities into community homes. They need to augment the Medicaid rates to facilitate hiring better staff who would gladly apply given the new normal. All it takes is the political will and the foresight to know it is better.

Robert Stack
President & CEO
Community Options Inc.
South Side