“It feels like a dream, once all this is over I want to hug someone” – Dar Tal-Providenza resident

“It feels like I am in a dream. I feel both scared and angry that people are not aware that a ‘healthier’ person can still infect people who are more vulnerable and at risk,” Christine Borg, a resident at Il-Dar Tal-Providenza told The Malta Independent.

“I feel more anxious as I cannot go out, cannot keep up with my friends and family. I pray for the safety and the health of our carers, their families too, as I am so dependent on them. Without the carers I cannot even get out of bed. As soon as this is all over, I want to go out and hug somebody,” said Borg.

These are difficult times, and the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyone’s routine, as around the world individuals, businesses, teachers and social care workers adjust to the ‘new normal’. Fr Martin Micallef, Director of Il-Dar Tal-Providenza, a home for persons with disability, spoke to The Malta Independent and described how, despite the new challenges, the home continues to provide a service and protect the wellbeing of residents and staff.

“The pandemic spread of COVID-19 took us all by surprise and the situation seems to be very worrying, keeping in mind the sad stories coming from Italy and other European countries,” said Micallef. He said that like other NGO’s, Il-Dar Tal-Providenza, feel a great sense of responsibility to ensure the safety of clients and staff. He said that whilst the past few days were not easy to adapt to, the home took up the challenge and changed accordingly.

“I am proud to say that our staff are cooperating fully and doing their best under the circumstances. The first step we took at the home was to ask our health and safety expert to draw up a contingency plan. The next day we started implementing these measures to reduce the risk of the virus reaching our homes including, amongst others, taking everyone’s temperature, the changing of outdoor shoes and filling in a screening questionnaire by all incoming staff and service providers.”

He said that the decision taken by Agenzija Sapport to stop Day Services was another challenge the home had to face. With the removal of Day Services, that meant that clients had to stay at home to keep them safe, instead of spending most of the day at these Centres. “Our Ability Promoters met this challenge by creating more indoor activities in small groups. This is not easy for some of our clients, especially those with autism or challenging behaviour to understand this sudden change of lifestyle, but fortunately most of them are adapting well.”

Micallef recalls how the most difficult decision was to ask parents, relatives and friends not to visit the home. “We are grateful that all relatives understood that this decision was in the best interest of the residents.”

Micallef said that whilst it is not a concern currently, donations are not coming through at the same rate as usual and due to the virus, all planned fundraising events have been cancelled. “Our first concern is the safety of the residents and the staff, but we do hope that the government will be there to help us this year if we will not be able to make ends meet. If the crisis prolongs, we will also have to shelve any planned projects we had for this year,” he explained.

“During such difficult times, the last thing an organisation like us would need is to feel left alone by the authorities, as we are seeing is the case with many foreign services providers,” said Micallef. He explained how the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) of which Il-Dar tal-Providenza is a member of, has praised the European Union for a fast reaction to the crisis, but that EASPD is concerned with the lack of provisions for social care.

“It is claiming that many professionals are exposed on a daily basis to the COVID-19, but the funding continuity is making operating conditions challenging, which is leading to many day-care, residential and other support centres to close.”

He said that from their end, the home has received much needed support from the Social Cares Standards Authority (SCSA) and other entities. “We are also working closely with the Diocesan Director for the Elderly Homes run by the Church and other services providers, who are offering residential services for persons with disability.”

Senior Support Worker Marvic Deguara explained that just like everyone else, residents sometimes find it frustrating as they are not allowed to go out and meet other people.

“Our Ability Promoters are doing their best to organise a variety of indoor activities for them. We are also grateful for MITA which has installed a new network system at the home, so that we have access to free Wifi, allowing the residents to communicate with their relatives through Skype or Messenger.”

She said that as a worker, she too feels scared and is unaware of what the future will bring. “We do not want any of our residents to get infected, nor ourselves, but we are taking all the necessary precautions to safeguard their safety and ours.”

RV Chung, a support worker at the home, said: “We don’t know where we are heading, but we are very lucky that at Id-Dar tal-Providenza, we are provided free transport for those workers who usually come to work and return home via public transport.”

Ability promoter, George Harrington highlighted that the home is creating other activities for the residents, to replace their daily outdoor activities. “I feel that the residents, although missing outings and other activities we cannot do at the moment, appreciate that we still care and are there for them. As a worker I think the home is taking the necessary measures to try to keep this virus out and I feel safe although scared sometimes as well.”

An article published by Giulia Magri on The Independent on 28th March 2020.