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"Two weeks to get my kid home for Christmas" mom of son in group home hoping for policy change

Posted at 5:57 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 18:02:03-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Michele Barrett already had to deal with a Thanksgiving without her son, and now she is facing a Christmas without him as well.

"It's just wrong," Barrett said, "no one thinks about these families in these group homes."

Barrett's son Arik, who is living with down syndrome, has been in a group home for the last two years. Due to COVID-19, living in the home has meant strict policies over when they can leave and come back to the Arc Erie County home he lives in. According to Arc policy, if he leaves the facility the only way he can come back is if he has a confirmed negative COVID-19 test upon returning. The site won't test them prior to leaving which Barrett sees as a massive problem.

"I'm not going to take the fall for my kid being sick this falls clearly on the agency and the house," Barrett said.

Barrett feels the facility is not holding its staff to the same standards as the residents. The facility does not require the staff to get tested when arriving at the home. Barrett sees an easy fix to this.

"They should be liable for giving them a negative test," Barrett said, "so then they could leave and then I will get him a test to return. That I am fine with."

In a comment for this story, Arc said that they would not be testing residents prior to leaving as they follow CDC guidelines to "only testing individuals that show symptoms or are exposed to someone that tests positive."

These are guidelines the State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities agreed with, saying they are working "to ensure all appropriate precautions are taken to keep everyone as safe as possible. Our current COVID-19 guidance, including protocols necessary to slow the spread of the virus associated with family visitation, apply to holiday visitations."

The full statements from The Arc and OPWDD can be found below.

The Arc:
"At The Arc Erie County New York, the health and safety of the people we support remains our highest priority during this holiday season. To minimize this risk of exposure to COVID-19, we have suspended all visitation to our sites and any non-essential travel outside the residence until these activities can safely resume. Additionally, we continue to ensure our staff adheres to strict safety guidelines, including constant use of PPE, frequent handwashing and ongoing site sanitation. We understand that not being able to have a loved one at home during the holidays is very difficult for both our residents and their families. While we do have processes in place to allow residents to spend the holidays at home and return safely to our sites following a state-mandated quarantine and negative COVID-19 test, we understand these requirements may be difficult for many of our families. Our team is working closely with these families and finding ways to use technology to ensure that each of the people we support know they are loved and missed by their family during this holiday season."

OPWDD:
“OPWDD understands how challenging the COVID-19 public health emergency has been on everyone, including people with developmental disabilities living in group homes and their families. OPWDD works closely with the NYS and local Departments of Health to ensure all appropriate precautions are taken to keep everyone as safe as possible. Our current COVID-19 guidance, including protocols necessary to slow the spread of the virus associated with family visitation, apply to holiday visitations and are publicly available on OPWDD’s COVID-19 web page. We are also sending a holiday message to families as we did prior to Thanksgiving. As always, our number one priority continues to be ensuring the health and safety of the people we support."