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Closure of day center for adults with disabilities poses challenges for clients and caregivers

170 adults with disabilities — mostly adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but also including some disabled seniors — need a new daytime care provider after one of the largest providers in Delaware could not find enough staff to reopen their center.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced day centers for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to close temporarily, leaving clients and their caretakers searching for backup plans.

Clients at a Wilmington center run by Pennsylvania-based nonprofit provider Elwyn expected some relief on June 1st, when the nonprofit had previously assured them the center would reopen.

But after losing hundreds of employees to retirements and resignations during the pandemic, Elwyn was forced to leave some centers — including the one in Wilmington —shuttered indefinitely.

Ability Network Delaware executive director Thomas Cook says that caught some families off guard.

“They pulled the plug fairly quickly," he said. "I think families were anticipating that people would be able to get back into services on June 1st because it looked like that’s what they were doing and communications were along that line.”

Rex Carney, Chief of Staff to Elwyn’s director, says the nonprofit struggled to retain staff during the pandemic and had to move some from day centers to residential centers; Elwyn does not operate any residential facilities in Delaware.

“For a variety of reasons, we lost hundreds of people," he said. "And when we closed day programs, what we tried to do was take people from those programs and move them to residential programs because we have to provide services to those people - they live with us.”

But family advocates say most clients can’t easily find a backup plan; some caretakers may need to quit a job, while others may have no options at all.

In a letter to families and other stakeholders, Elwyn’s Chief Operating Officer assured the nonprofit will share information about transferring to other care providers when opportunities arise.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.