by PAUL BICKLEY
Safely providing services for people with disabilities is a daily challenge during normal times. Doing so during a pandemic, however, requires an outside-the-box approach.
In February, when Stone Belt, a nonprofit that provides resources and support for individuals with disabilities, began preparing for the effects of COVID-19 and the eventual stay-at- home mandate, one of the concerns was that some of its clients wouldn’t easily be able to maintain a six-foot distance from others or wear a face mask effectively.
Further, if a client needed to be hospitalized, bans on patient visitations during the pandemic would create additional suffering, especially for those clients who can’t communicate verbally and would be without their support staff to help them understand their conditions and treatments.
That’s when Khalil Stewart stepped up. Stewart is a licensed practical nurse ( LPN ) and the coordinator of healthcare services at Milestones Clinical and Health Resources, the clinical division of Stone Belt. Stewart planned and implemented an in-house recovery suite for clients contracting the virus by converting two classrooms into a suite of four beds. He determined what PPE would be needed and trained staff on how to use it. Then he conducted webinars about PPE for all three Stone Belt locations, visited group homes, and supported residences to work directly with clients and staff.
“These actions not only increased the safety of our clients and staff, but they also gave everyone confidence that we were on the right track,” says James Wiltz, Milestones director. “It is difficult to exaggerate how important it has been for our staff, clients, and their families to feel that Stone Belt has been effectively navigating the rough waters of the pandemic. Khalil’s steady competence throughout has been essential to the success of those efforts.”
To Stewart, others are the heroes. “The direct support professionals work with our clients day in and day out,” he counters. “They’re the ones who took on extra shifts or worked longer hours. They’re the ones who adjusted their home lives more. They’re the ones who made sure that the group homes were disinfected. They’re the ones who found creative ways to keep our clients engaged during the lockdown phase.”
Nonetheless, Leslie Green, Stone Belt’s CEO, praises Stewart. “Khalil has been a steadying force through the tough times. He is an unsung hero.”