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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Tough Adjustment:                By MALLORY DIEFENBACHmdiefenbach@batavianews.com
Perry man copes as longtime group home suspended amid staffing crisis

Matthew Duboy had lived at the Koscieiniak IRA group home on Handley Street for 15 years. For 15 years he had a routine.

That was until Nov. 30 when his parents Karen and Dave Duboy received a call from the Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Service Office in Leicester that the Koscieiniak IRA was being closed.

The state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, which oversees the group homes, says Koscieiniak is suspended as the agency continues to deal with staffing shortages. The suspension, meant Matthew and the other 10 residents would be moved to the nearby Perry IRA in 11 days.

“(Matthew) is a very routine kid,” Karen said. “Trying to get him established in (Perry IRA) has taken a lot of extra work on everybody.”

Matthew didn’t know he would be moving. His mother said there was no way to prepare her son for it; Matthew doesn’t have the cognitive skills to understand, which makes maintaining a routine vital.

The changes – and challenges – have not been limited to the Koscieiniak and Perry IRA homes. Closures and combining of residences has become and increasingly common occurrence across the state.

The state reduced the OPWDD workforce by about 15 percent from 2009 to 2020. The direct care staff have been working double, triple and even quadruple shifts during COVID. Group homes started to close in 2020 with the vast majority in 2021. In the GLOW region, eight group homes have closed or been temporarily suspended since 2019, with seven of them happening in 2021.

Officials at OWPDD cite the ongoing staffing shortages as the reason for the suspensions.

“OPWDD and our provider agencies, as well as most human services organizations across the country, are facing a workforce shortage of crisis proportions,” Jennifer O’Sullivan, director of communications of OPWDD, said in a statement to The Daily News. “To accommodate for severe staffing shortages at both homes, the Koscielniak group home was temporarily consolidated with the Perry group home, which is located only one mile away, on Dec. 28. While these are temporary consolidations, they will remain in place until such time that we can achieve safe and appropriate staffing levels to support both homes.”

O’Sullivan said the size of each group home is determined by its approved operating capacity. The number of individuals served within that capacity depends upon the needs of the people that reside within the home.

The typical range is from four to 14 residents, with some exceptions statewide. In certain circumstances — such as the current staffing crisis — OPWDD can seek to expand capacity in order to assure necessary staff coverage to meet the needs of the people being served.

O’Sullivan said emergency temporary group home consolidations are never the first option and are only considered when other efforts to achieve appropriate staffing levels have not been successful.

Matthew does not take change in his routine very well — his Down Syndrome, OCD, language delayed, and processing delay issues make it extremely difficult to just pack up and move. He needs processing time and transition periods, his mother explained.

Matthew didn’t know he was moving homes until he arrived at Perry IRA. “You could see in his eyes he wasn’t quite sure what was going on,” Karen said.

Karen said they tried to keep him in the same routine. They took photos of his room to make sure they got all the details right of how he liked it.

Karen explained Matthew can’t be confused on which way to go. His routine in the morning was go to the laundry room, wash his clothes and return to his room to get started for the day.

The new staff didn’t realize this, and when Matthew got up he was wandering around the house. So, they gave him directions to get ready for work.

“They didn’t understand he has to have his routine. He didn’t know where the laundry room was,” she explained. “Once the staff understood — the new staff because we have new staff on board — they understood, ‘Come on Matt, here is the laundry room.’ They had to teach him where the laundry room was.”

Karen said after he gets ready, Matthew comes down and sits in the kitchen and has to have a particular spot. Other people can’t be sitting where he likes to sit every morning, because if Matthew was to walk into the kitchen and find someone sitting in his chair he would get very upset.

“Things have settled down,” Karen said. “It’s still really hard for many of them at the house because it’s a total disruption. I mean he went from a house of 11 to now 22.”

Karen compared the change to attending

a new school where you don’t know everyone. In her opinion, she said it’s not a home. It’s a facility. Years ago, Karen said the Perry IRA was an intermediate care facilities (ICF). She said when people think of ICFs, nursing homes come to mind and bedridden people. It wasn’t designed to make it look like a home, she said.

“The hard part for us is we could have brought Matthew home,” Karen said. “It would have worked around my work schedule. But there was no guarantee in writing that I would have a bed back when (the staffing situation) got better.”

Karen said the whole purpose of finding a home for Matthew was so he could find his independence, and if something should happen to her and Dave, he has a home. They were told years ago they needed to plan for Matthew’s future because if they unexpectedly pass, New York could put him anywhere in the state they want.

“I see him losing his independence because he’s still getting to know this huge house,” Karen said, choking up. “He sometimes waits for people to tell him (what to do next). He doesn’t know what to expect next sometimes.”

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