Early March 2020 saw many organisations scrambling as they tried to understand what COVID 19 meant for them. In many respects, Bayley House was no different. They gathered teams, developed comprehensive Covid-Safe plans, set their goals – To continue to engage clients remotely who previously attended Day Programs, to keep residential clients safe and connected, and to keep all staff employed in the safest way possible.
Bayley House clients – adults with an intellectual disability – are extremely vulnerable to the pandemic. Many have compromised immune systems, and/or underlying conditions while others may struggle with social distancing.
‘Taking proactive steps to keep clients and staff safe was a significant priority for us,’ Bayley House CEO, Warwick Cavanagh said. ‘A big part of our mission is to create opportunities for adults with intellectual disabilities to explore and grow, to build independence and establish meaningful connections in the community. We had to find a way to keep doing that under extraordinary circumstances.’
We could not carry on as usual, so despite the complexities of moving to the virtual world, we went digital and Bayley House Online was born’. Launched early April the new website portal offered a broad range of online activities from Monday to Friday as well as new activities during the weekends. This was significant in many ways. A totally new way to deliver services to people who are already more at risk of social isolation and loneliness than the broader community. Further restrictions to their lives and those of their families had the potential to intensify negative impacts on families as well.
Bayley House was in a position to disrupt this trajectory and were determined to succeed early on in the pandemic. The Marketing and IT teams were called in to help families with any teething problems they had using social media, the Bayley House website, email and ZOOM video conferencing .’ We wanted to create a positive experience as early as possible and to find any way we could to keep our people connected. We could not have predicted how quickly and enthusiastically our clients took to online engagement and by any measure it has been a tremendous success. Equally, we know that 50% of our clients cannot access a virtual stream at all and we continue to work to find ways to support them and their families.’
Families already under stress trying to cope with working from home and/or facing the prospect of job loss whilst caring for an adult with intellectual disability full time, were provided with some respite while their family member was happily engaged. Participants had a choice of over 35 activities ranging from Drawing Club, line dancing, song writing, meditation, news program and podcasting to dance therapy, drama, literacy and Pen pals.
‘Six months after launching Bayley House Online, we are pleased to report that over 100 clients are engaged in the activities of their choice; 100% of our staff are still employed; both staff and clients have adapted well to a new situation, learned new skills and built confidence and connections that will last well beyond this pandemic.