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Community Connections: Horizons Specialized Services

Horizons: Safety, Compassion, and Innovation

Deidre Pepin
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Life since COVID-19 hit Colorado in mid-March has been challenging, full of uncertainty and anything but typical. At Horizons Specialize Services, we have been following the strictest guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as specific regulations mandated by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment and the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. 

In doing so, we have not only prioritized the health and safety of individuals with developmental delays and cognitive disabilities who are considered vulnerable populations, we have also re-created service delivery models in order to offer the most compassionate, innovative and person-centered care possible.

At the onset of the pandemic, some of our Medicaid funded programs were fully suspended while others were reinforced significantly. Our day program, vocational services and transportation services were suddenly halted. Policies and protocols in our comprehensive residential program increased substantially and changed frequently. Our early intervention program for children ages birth to 3 years transitioned to telehealth, using virtual platforms for evaluations and occupational and speech therapy sessions. We witnessed our Family Support families address abruptly altered routines that affected the well-being of the entire family unit.

Along with the people enrolled in our programs, some of those most affected by COVID-19 have been Horizons’ direct support professionals. The support professionals have always been caretakers, advocates, teachers, mentors and confidants. 

They assist adults with intellectual disabilities in functions of daily living, including meal preparation, grocery shopping, nutrition, hygiene and money management. They coach and develop social skills, emotional awareness and appropriate behaviors. Now, they are essential health care workers as well. They are responsible for multiple rounds of vital monitoring, infection control processes and management of proper social distancing, hand sanitizing and mask wearing throughout the day. They endure the formidable liability of keeping the people they support safe, healthy and COVID-19 free.

At the same time that Horizons implemented unfunded mandates related to COVID-19, we also received a 1% cut to our adult services programs and a 10% cut to our early intervention program. Gratefully, we have received assistance from many foundations, businesses, individuals and organizations. 

The quick, initial pivot from the way things used to be required a lot of community cooperation — through grant funding, resource allocation and nonprofit collaboration and conversation. With help from Public Health, we have been able to conduct regular agency-wide testing since April. All of our partners have allowed us to keep providing services to children, families and adults throughout the pandemic.

As we continue to navigate this health crisis, Horizons remains committed to providing the highest quality care. For seven months, we have successfully connected through telehealth therapy sessions, Google Classroom lessons and Zoom game nights. We are working through the challenges of social isolation as well as the frustrations of masked or contact-free communication. 

We have become experts at donning and doffing personal protective equipment, performing health screenings, creating isolation plans and checking in on each person’s welfare. Our direct support professionals have remained positive and professional, even as their own health and safety have been exposed to risk and their personal freedoms restricted. While our agency has worked diligently at all levels to respond to COVID-19, it is our people on the frontlines providing direct and compassionate care and devising new and innovative strategies who have been most valuable.

Deirdre Pepin is the resource development and public relations coordinator for Horizons Specialized Services. Horizons works in partnership with families and communities to expand opportunities for individuals with, or at risk of, developmental disabilities. To contact Horizons, go to horizonsnwc.org or call 970-879-4466.


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