The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many of us with challenging decisions, from managing our groceries to caring for vulnerable family members.
Linda Smith made a choice many of us would find hard to imagine. She runs a group home for people with intellectual disabilities. When she and several of her residents tested positive for COVID-19, she took the extraordinary step of choosing to quarantine with them.
Smith has managed the Herbst House for 20 years. It’s part of Avenues to Independence, a nonprofit in northwest suburban Park Ridge that provides housing to 54 people in 17 group homes.
When an asymptomatic staff member of Herbst House tested positive for COVID-19, tests revealed that six residents and five staff members of Herbst had already contracted the virus. All the infected staff were sent home to quarantine and monitor their symptoms. But then, Avenues to Independence administrators were presented with their own tough choice, one faced these days by many institutions: Who takes care of the infected residents? Sending in healthy staff risks not only their own health but potentially that of their families and communities.
“We thought the ideal situation would be for one staff person to quarantine in place with the individuals in the home,” said Stephen Kray, residential director at Avenues to Independence. “That way no other staff are exposed to them, we know they get consistent care, and the whole crew of staff aren’t coming and going through the community, potentially infecting others in the community.”
They started with the most senior person first: Linda Smith. She said the decision was easy.
“I don’t see this as a job. I see this as a ministry,” she said. “It is my job to take care of the clients. And when he said, ‘Would you do it?’ I said, ‘OK, this is my chance to really stand firm to what I believe.’”
Two residents needed to be transferred to the hospital as their symptoms worsened. One has since been released and the other is doing well, says Kray. Other than some mild coughing at night, Smith herself has been symptom free and will end her quarantine Wednesday.
Video: Jay Shefsky checks in with three men from Avenues to Independence that he first met two years ago to see how they are handling life in the time of COVID-19. Left to right: Bill Rogers, Louis Kaufman and Allan Rehwinkel.