By Zandy Dudiak, Communications coordinator
The COVID-19 mitigation efforts hit most people hard. But it was particularly hard on individuals like Christine T., a Thornwood Community Living Arrangement (CLA) resident who had attended Baldwin Adult Training Facility (ATF) five days a week. She loved the activities and seeing friends.
When the pandemic forced the ATFs to close in order to prevent the spread of the virus, Christine missed her activities and friends. She also was not able to see her sister, with whom she is very close.
“Because her routine was broken and no one was leaving the house, she was really sad,” says Heather Flaherty, team lead. “It affected her big time. I think this whole year just changed the world and everybody. It was depressing for people.
As time went on, Christine didn’t want to go to medical appointments or go for walks—or even sit out on the porch. She would put her head down and not want to engage or move her body. She wouldn’t do the crafts the ATF staff brought for her to do at home. She wouldn’t turn on the TV.
“At first, we just kind of went with the flow,” says Tamika Berry, supervisor, noting that Christine did participate in telehealth visits. “She’s definitely stubborn and you can’t push too much.”
The staff realized it was important for Christine’s mental and physical health to get her engaged again. They did what they could to help Christine feel comfortable resuming her routine. Heather first worked to coax Christine to go outdoors. Using coloring books and juice, both things that Christine loves, Heather finally enticed her to go out on the porch.
Unrelated to the pandemic, the Baldwin ATF site closed last year and Christine learned that when she returned to the day program, it would be located instead at the Beechview site. When it came time in June 2021 to change to the new day program at Beechview, Christine was adamant.
“I don’t want to go,” she told Heather. “I want to stay with you and eat chocolate cake.”
Heather has worked for Pittsburgh Mercy for 17 years, specifically persons served by Intellectual Disabilities Services.
“I really know them well, what works, what doesn’t, and about redirecting them,” she says. “We were trying everything at first.”
Then, colleagues faced another issue—Christine needed to wear a mask to return to the ATF, but she wouldn’t. So, they purchased masks they knew she’d like and wear—“Frozen” and “Mickey Mouse.” “It was very important that she wear a mask,” Tamika says.
Christine loves beautiful dresses and shirts, and accessorizing them with costume jewelry. Tamika says she also loves to get her nails done. So, the staff used those things to get Christine excited about the “big day” when she would resume her daily ATF routine.
“It’s definitely the staff that I credit,” Tamika says. “They were so wonderful throughout COVID. Those staff members at Thornwood had a lot of patience with her. They took it one day at a time.”
The first week-and-a-half was hard for Christine and resulted in a few tears, but now, she is ready to face the day, telling people she’s going to work to eat chocolate cake with her friends. She has her coloring books ready to go, Tamika says. Now, she not only wears a mask to the day program, she keeps it on during the day. “She’s more outgoing,” Heather says. “She’s happier.”
As for the chocolate cake? That’s something Heather can’t figure. It’s not something Christine eats regularly. Now, her enthusiasm for cake is such that Christine is telling her friends that she’s having chocolate cake for her upcoming birthday. Never mind that her birthday is in November.
Rewarding Christine for making needed changes to get her back into life was a cakewalk for Heather compared to the journey to reach that point. She promised Christine chocolate cake on the first day she returned to the day program. So, when Heather picked her up that day, they stopped at a store and Christine got a chocolate Hostess cupcake to celebrate!