COVID-19 has disrupted countless lives. It has been especially dangerous for those living in congregate settings—such as people with disabilities or who are aging. GT Independence wasn’t founded with a pandemic in mind, but the situation reinforces why we exist.
In the midst of a pandemic, we saw the added protection that self-direction provides. Lives are saved when people receive long-term care and support in their chosen settings. And when they can choose their trusted and qualified caregivers. Since early 2020, we have worked extra hard to ensure self-direction stays a practical and safe choice.
We are proud to report that despite the challenges of the pandemic, GT experienced no service interruptions. People who have chosen self-direction and home-based services have been receiving the care and support they rely upon, day after day. And, over time, we have seen more and more people taking advantage of self-directed services available.
People recognize that one of the safest places to be and to receive care and support is at home. As the pandemic continues, the GT family will keep supplying tools and resources to give people confidence in living the lives of their choosing. And we will keep exploring ways we can do our job better to help people realize better outcomes, even in difficult times.
Humbly serving our communities,
Holly Carmichael, CEO
Throughout the pandemic, GT has taken steps to reduce the impacts on our customers, employees, and communities. Here are just a few ways:
In early 2020, GT had the infrastructure in place that enabled us to move all employees to a work-from-home model almost overnight. Since then, our virtual workforce has been providing uninterrupted support. All while maintaining our high standards of service. We have been receiving timesheets, issuing timely and accurate payments, providing customer support, conducting enrollments for new referrals, and submitting encounter data without missing a beat.
As COVID-19 upended job markets, GT stepped up to provide solutions to people seeking long-term care and support for themselves or their loved ones. In California, we were granted a waiver to operate for people with disabilities. We quickly built up our website and resources to help qualified residents receive services.
Caregivers are absolutely essential in helping people who self-direct maintain their health and wellness. GT wanted to recognize the dedication of caregivers during a difficult time, and one way we did so was through hazard pay. Some states provided hazard pay for caregivers, so GT was able to increase the hourly rate of each caregiver during some of the most difficult months of the pandemic. Hazard pay averaged an extra $2 to $3 per hour, although amounts varied by state. Caregivers were overwhelmed by the increases, as many assumed their higher paychecks were the result of an error. GT was able to offer the additional funds by securing resources through the CARES Act.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) was in short supply in the early days of the pandemic. Knowing that we serve people who may be at higher risk for severe illness or complications, we decided to provide every participant with a PPE kit. Using $3 million of a federal grant, GT purchased and shipped 22,000 kits to its participants across the U.S. The protective kits included face shields, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer.
Communities nationwide have felt the impact of COVID-19 in one form or another. GT was no exception. Although our company felt financial impacts from the pandemic, we made it a priority to keep people employed and help others in need. Since the pandemic began, GT has donated more than it ever has before to local and regional charities helping with the pandemic. This includes donating $100,000 to the Sturgis Area Community Foundation, to help our hometown community of Sturgis, Michigan. The donations offered relief to residents affected by statewide closures and restrictions. They helped people who experienced lost jobs, reduced working hours, and other financial hardships.
Many communities have used social distancing measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. These measures do protect us from the virus. But, extended isolation can contribute to serious health problems.
At GT, we know many people feel isolated in the best of times. The pandemic highlighted the importance of social interaction and connection. We introduced a social media campaign to raise awareness of the issue. We offered tips about how to stay connected, and we let people know they are in our thoughts.
The pandemic inspired creative applications of tools already available at GT. We tested whether our Caregiver app could work as a health screening tool for COVID-19. The goal was to prevent poor health outcomes for people who are often vulnerable and hard to reach.
GT conducted a trial in Maine, held May through June 2020. Caregivers surveyed participants for COVID-19 symptoms during routine care check-ins. Data was collected in the Caregiver app and available to the participant’s care manager. At the same time, GT and Maine authorities got an overview of COVID-19 symptom trends among residents with disabilities or who were aging and currently self-directing care.
In the Maine trial, the Caregiver app identified 9% of participants who showed COVID-19 symptoms. They were tested and attended to by caregivers or other healthcare providers. The survey also included questions about whether participants had enough food and supplies. It found 6% of people were struggling. GT coordinated with primary caregivers to provide critical help and support.
“I am thankful I get the opportunity during this pandemic to have GT give me the help I need—as well as the help my mom needs! Thank you…I am so happy to be home with Mom.”– Lisa S., Family Caregiver