James and Deb are tele-buddies. They touch base for about 30 minutes each weekday via Zoom, one of the software-based video and audio conferencing systems that’s acting as a lifeline for businesses, families and others trying to stay connected during the COVID-19 crisis.
James is James Ramsey, a Day Services Assistant at Vodec’s Central Iowa site in Urbandale, Iowa. Deb is a Vodec consumer who normally attends Central Iowa’s Cares program, which provides a variety of experiences that immerse consumers in community life.
When Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a state of public health disaster in mid-March that forced the closures of establishments across the state, that meant Deb had to stay home. It quickly became apparent the closures could last months, not days, so staff turned to technology to help fill the void.
Before the COVID-19 closures, Ramsey’s workday included helping consumers make progress on their individual goals, participating in on-site activities and off-site excursions, and assisting with meal preparation and other consumer needs.
Today, he’s the kind face and reassuring voice on Deb’s computer screen when it’s time for “Virtual Vodec.” On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the topic is stretching exercises. Deb uses a wheelchair as her primary means of getting around but also has a walker. These sessions are designed to help Deb improve her mobility so she opts for the walker first and becomes less dependent on her wheelchair.
During a recently-observed session, Ramsey looks the part, dressed in a comfy sweatshirt and baseball cap. He demonstrates a series of movements and instructs Deb to mimic his actions, starting out with simple stretches and adding complexity as they go. His directions – delivered in a clear, calm and encouraging voice – are interspersed with questions for Deb (“Do you feel that?”) and encouragement when she completes a move (“You’re doing great!”).
Deb’s a gamer. She’s quick to follow along, responds to Ramsey’s questions with enthusiasm and smiles her way through the entire session.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Ramsey helps Deb learn sign language or demonstrates a craft activity he thinks she’ll enjoy. If they have time, they work in a quick game of Jeopardy, one of Deb’s favorites. Before they sign off, the two friends chat about Deb’s day, how she’s feeling and if she needs anything from Ramsey before they check in again the next day.
The sessions end with a virtual fist bump.
“Deb is wonderful, kind and compassionate with a lot of determination,” Ramsey said. “The first day I see her in person again, I’ll tell her how much I’ve missed her and give her a handshake or high five – if it’s allowed.”
Tina Hardy, Vodec’s Day Services Supervisor in Central Iowa, said “Virtual Vodec” empowers consumers to work on their goals despite having limited physical contact with other people. “Our staff is excited to be able to help our consumers cope during these unprecedented circumstances,” she said.
Vodec offers its Cares program in Urbandale, Council Bluffs and Omaha. For more information, call 712.328.2638.