TX START Program Innovations During COVID-19



From TX START Director Hannah Bednar:

Immediately following the news that one of our team members was presumptive positive with COVID-19, the Resource Center in Tarrant County closed its doors to any guests, planned or emergency. The following day we began looking at ways to support the ICF homes operated by My Health My Resources (MHMR) of Tarrant County. Resource Center Counselors were assigned to group homes and asked to continue “business as usual” in each of their homes. Having embedded Resource Center Counselors in the ICFs has been beneficial in giving the group home staff a first-hand view of the Positive Psychology and Trauma-informed care approaches used by START.  ICF staff are gaining a clearer picture of how these approaches benefit the recipients of care, the staff members providing the care, and contribute to a more positive environment in which to live and work.  Regarding START support in the ICFs, Pam Brown-Smith, Program Director, said, “The battle in the homes looks different than what we hear about in the news daily. The staff in the homes are fighting against fear, boredom, and the confusion of those we serve while fighting worry themselves. START has played a huge role in ensuring that our residents have activities to help support them as they are sheltering in place.  In addition, their presence in the homes during this pandemic is greatly appreciated as we have joined together as one cohesive team to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of those we serve”. START services didn’t stop because the Resource Center wasn’t open. In fact, the creativity that it took to alter our services and tailor them to each home only amplified the great work our Resource Center Counselors do every day. The fact that services were able to continue without a physical space really gives credence to the idea that the Resource Center is Positive Psychology embodied and can be done anywhere.

Our designated coaching staff has been nothing short of amazing in terms of their ability to adapt to this change and support the people we were supporting before our shelter in place order was issued. The continuity of care has been incredible and nothing short of miraculous for the people we support. They have also been recording therapeutic activities and grounding technique videos as an additional way to support people during this challenging time. The capacity to provide coaching has only grown since services have gone virtual and we have been highly successful in doing therapeutic activities with families via teleconferencing. Our coaching services have really highlighted the resiliency in our team and more importantly in the people we support.

One of the strongest linkage relationships Texas START Tarrant has constructed over the past few years has been with Boulevard Heights School, a school for people with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and co-occurring behavioral health concerns. In collaboration with Boulevard Heights, Texas START Tarrant has created a Padlet for all of our shared resources. The Padlet is a virtual bulletin board which allows for real-time sharing of resources. With this sharing platform, we are able to tailor the information each START Coordinator shares to the team requesting information. This selective organization of the many resources being offered daily has been tremendously helpful. For example, if the identified need is self-care resources, we can share resources specific to self-care instead of overwhelming the person with more than they need. We have been able to provide immediate and tangible support during this time which has provided real-time feedback in terms of our understanding the importance of linkages with key stakeholders. This resource and relationship has greatly benefitted our ability to provide therapeutic supports and provide services to other local entities.

One of the entities that has benefitted from this linkage is SSLCs. Recently, several of the SSLCs in Texas have been on the news. Though Denton SSLC is not technically in our catchment area, several of the residents there are people Texas START Tarrant has served over the years. We have been reaching out at the state level to see if there are services that we can offer for the people currently residing in SSLCs who may be struggling to understand the events happening around them. Our biggest concern is those with limited natural supports who are suddenly unable to do the things they once were. Unfortunately, given the current outbreak, there is very little time and understanding of the urgency to communicate what is happening to the residents. Texas START Tarrant has offered to use teleconferencing to reach people who are struggling and is currently collaborating to develop social stories for people in SSLCs. One family member, who had been contacted by Kelly Land, Program Director of Texas START Tarrant, reached out to the CEO of My Health My Resources of Tarrant County to express her gratitude towards Kelly for checking on her loved one. All of our START Clinical team and Resource Center team members have been reaching out to current and past START recipients and their families to encourage and support them as we all face this crisis. A simple act of kindness in times like these may not seem important to us but it can make all the difference in the lives of the people we support.

Stay well and spread kindness!