How Connecticut families are dealing with the visitation ban at group homes amid the coronavirus pandemic

Connecticut Families

(WTNH) — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost every part of our everyday lives, including that of families who visit loved-ones in group homes. The virus has paused visitation for the time being, and one mother says she feels helpless and terrified she is not able to see her son with special needs.

Last October, Gail Parrish could spend time with her son, Jarrod, at his group home. The non-verbal 41-year-old has autism and communicates visually through sign language.

“I thought raising a person with a developmental disability was tough; it was a piece of cake compared to this,” she said, reacting to the current climate. Due to the pandemic, she now can’t visit her son in his home.

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“Absolutely terrifying, especially to a mother who has seen her son every Sunday for 22 years straight,” she said.

“You have to limit the contacts to control the spread,” explained Heather LaTorra, President and CEO of Marrakech Inc., which runs a group home in Winsted for deaf people. Some residents respond well to alternatives like window visits and car parades.

“We have birthday brigades,” she said. “We’re going to do something special for Mother’s Day because I know all the moms out there miss their kids.”

But those approaches don’t work for all residents of group homes, especially the men and women who don’t understand today’s landscape.

“If a family member were to go and drop something off at their house; if they see them, they’re going to be more agitated,” explained Tracey Walker, CEO of Journey Found, who helped open Zoom accounts for all residents, many of whom need face to face interaction. “‘If they’re here, why can’t I see them? Why can’t I let them in?’ Again, some of our folks do well and others don’t because, [they think], ‘I can see my loved one but why can’t I get to them?'”

“He was happy to see me, smiles, but everything has been, ‘When can I come home?'” said Parrish who is grateful for the Zoom visits which are better than nothing. At least she and her son can communicate again.

She has spent a lifetime protecting Jarrod and now feels helpless, uncertain about the future.

“I’ve kind of resigned myself to the fact that, for us, this could go on a couple more months,” she said. “All any of us can do is take it day-by-day and see how we get by.”

In a statement, the Department of Developmental Services told News 8 it is continuing to review public health guidelines to determine appropriate next steps and will provide updated information to families in the weeks ahead.

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