Remember how excited we all were to start the new decade? January of 2020 started off promising. Here at Triangle, we were one year away from our 50th year of operations. We had just opened our new facility in Salem to replace a nearby older site that had seen better days. We were excited to open our new Workforce Development and Testing Center in downtown Malden. We were in the midst of a search for a new flagship service site and headquarters building to replace our longtime home. And, our programming and self-advocacy curriculums were being utilized by a growing number of school systems and outside organizations across Massachusetts and spreading as far as North Dakota!
Yup, things were looking bright and the future was rosy.
Well, around one month later we all started to see reports on TV and social media about a strange new virus. Ordinarily, this would not be the kind of news that generates an overreaction or pushes the proverbial “panic button,” but given the severity of reports, I asked our Chief Clinical Officer Melissa Strout to “keep an eye on this” and start researching the potential implications of how COVID-19 could affect our residents, participants, and organization as a whole. Three weeks later, this initial prep work helped to save lives and livelihoods of our participants, residents, staff, and, most likely, the agency as a whole.
For those of you who are new to Triangle, the short version is what happened next, happened very quickly. When we saw rising case numbers in the US through the beginning of March and analyzed the data from the World Health Organization and Massachusetts Department of Public Health, we decided to suspend in-person programing and implement strict quarantine procedures at all nine of our residential homes. We sent all of our non-residential employees home with a commitment to ensuring that through the remainder of the fiscal year we would maintain their pay and employment status, regardless of their ability to work. All departments quickly shifted focus to develop innovative virtual curricula that made our programs lively and interesting. We expanded our programs to reach people with disabilities on nights and weekends and enhanced the social aspects of our programs at a time when the people in our programs were feeling increasingly isolated. Our Workforce Development team began to offer virtual services to students and adults and, later, opened two new testing centers in Malden and Salem. These two test centers were authorized to provide educational and professional tests during the pandemic, providing an essential service to job seekers in need of required credentials or certifications to obtain employment.
Our residential program acted quickly to incorporate staff from other Triangle departments who raised their hands to work in our homes. This was essential, as our residents were no longer leaving their homes during the day for programming or jobs and required 24/7 care and staff to help facilitate daily activities. Of all those who worked diligently to support our population during the pandemic, our residential staff and management bore the largest set of challenges in keeping spirits high and attentions focused for a group of people who now felt completely cut off from their outside lives, employment, and social networks. Through their dedication and sense of mission, we have managed to make our residents’ experiences and living situations as supportive and meaningful as possible.
Today, looking back over the past 12 months, I am extremely proud of this entire organization and what we were able to accomplish despite all the challenges of COVID and 2020. Each and every member of the Triangle team understood their duty to the people in our programs. For as hard as this situation was for our staff members, the pandemic’s deleterious effects had an outsized impact on people with disabilities. Our participants were cut off from their jobs, their friends, and the staff who support them every single day.
We certainly learned a lot from the past year and stand ready to carry the innovations we developed forward into our “new normal.” From a technology standpoint, we now know that remote and virtual programming can play a vital role in helping support people as an addendum to everyday in-person sessions. After losing the ability to provide community-based employment opportunities, we cannot wait to re-engage our employment partners with enhanced programming and an eager workforce ready to earn a paycheck.
It was a year for the books. I, like many of you, wasn’t sad to see 2021 kickoff. However, for those of us who were here at Triangle, during this tumultuous time, we will look back with pride on how we came through to the other side knowing all we did to overcome and ensure that we fulfilled our obligations to our participants and mission each and every day.