A message from Commissioner Theodore Kastner

Important Information about the COVID-19 Vaccine for People with Developmental Disabilities

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As you are likely aware, the first doses of the long-awaited vaccine against COVID-19 have made their way to New York State. On December 14, Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse from Queens, made history as the first person in the United States to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. All of us at OPWDD are grateful that a vaccine that can help protect the people we support, and our staff who care for them, is now in sight.

Governor Cuomo has announced a phased-in approach to vaccine distribution and people with developmental disabilities living in congregate settings, and the staff who care for them, will be among the first to receive the vaccine in Phase 1 of the distribution. You can find more information about the phased-in approach to vaccine distribution here. https://forward.ny.gov/covid-19-vaccine-distributi...

At this time, I'd like to alert you to some materials we have made available to help you understand the vaccine distribution process and what it means for you. These include a video explaining the vaccine and a plain language document. All the materials about the COVID-19 vaccine will be found on the OPWDD COVID-19 webpage, including a copy of the NYS Department of Health Screening and Consent Form for COVID-19. As new guidance becomes available related to the vaccination process, it will also be posted on that page.

While plans for distributing the vaccine are underway and are moving quickly, a lot needs to happen to ensure success. First, I would like to emphasize that the more people who are offered the vaccine and choose to take it, the better the public health outcome will be. As valued members of our OPWDD community, I appeal to each and every one of you to help educate others about the importance of vaccination and do your part to encourage widespread vaccination. Each person eligible for vaccination will need to consent to being vaccinated. OPWDD will soon be issuing guidance on the consent process and will be sharing it via our email delivery system and on our website.

While the vaccine's arrival in New York is welcome news, please remember that the threat of COVID-19 is far from over. The vaccine may not prevent people from catching COVID-19 and does not protect against any other viruses, but people who are vaccinated are much less likely to become sick after the vaccine. And if they do catch COVID-19 after vaccination, they are much less likely to feel sick or die as a result of this virus.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have warned repeatedly, COVID-19 can spread anywhere, even places where you feel safe, like your home. Please continue to follow public health guidance by staying at least 6 feet away from other people, washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask when you are in the presence of other people and avoiding crowds both small and large. If we take every precaution available to us, we will have the best chance of staying safe from this extremely contagious virus.

Please be certain that you are signed up for OPWDD updates. It is the quickest and best way to stay up to date about COVID-19 and all OPWDD news. Sign up here.

Please stay safe,

Theodore Kastner, M.D., M.S.

Wear a 3 PLY Disposable Face Mask


This is the mask you should wear to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and we have them available for all our employees and individuals. Simply request a mask from your supervisor or program manager as needed.

Consider Getting the Flu Shot

We encourage everyone to take the flu shot as it can save lives. Soon IRI will have free flu shots available on site for all employees and individuals.

Get Tested for COVID-19

We encourage everyone to get tested for COVID-19 as a way to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community from the virus. There are several test sites through NYC some of which are free of charge. CLICK HERE for information on test sites in your area.

Visitation Policy Update

Dear friends and family members,
We have been provided guidelines to allow visitations by parents and families in all programs except those within a designated red zone. This is long overdue but it seems prudent to contain the virus and limit spread to reduce contact. We, at IRI, continue to believe that family engagement is important for healthy living and encourage it. However, we are concerned that we will be introducing more risk by virtue of this renewed contact regardless of the most restrictive precautions. The coronavirus is both highly contagious, often debilitating and for some populations deadly. We still do not have therapeutics and a vaccine that is safe and effective is still 11-18 months away according to the experts. As we partner to care for your loved ones, I am asking that you consider carefully these visits for your safety, that of your loved ones, the safety of other people who live in the house and the safety of the staff who have just done an extraordinary job following our best guidance informed by the experts from the CDC, DOH, OPWDD and the NIH.

Updated October 23, 2020


The Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) has set up a section of their website that is specifically focused on guidance and announcements related to COVID-19/coronavirus. The website can be accessed by clicking here.

Below are the most updated COVID-19 guidelines from OPWDD

Guidance for Resident and Family Communication in Adult Care Facilities (ACFs) and Nursing Homes (NHs)

Protocols for Essential Personnel to Return to Work Following COVID-19 Exposure or Infection

Protocols for Direct Support Personnel to Return to Work

General Management of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Facilities or Programs Operated and/or Certified by OPWDD

Revised Staffing Guidance For Management of COVID-19

Message from Dr. Gilbert Louis, Executive Director

I want to start by thanking everyone for their hard work and commitment to supporting this very vulnerable population. It is in times like these that your dedication and professionalism are in display. However, I know you show your dedication everyday you come to work. For each one of you, it is clearly not a job, but a true vocation. Thank you; thank you; thank you.

It is my sense that we all know that there is a serious health emergency that the world is dealing with and as you can imagine it has affected our small community. At IRI, we are primarily following the directives, instructions, and guidance from OPWDD, DOH, and the CDC. We have a team of terrific nurses on staff for consultation, triaging, and treatment if needed. We have provided extensive instruction on social distancing, hand washing, need for hydration, detecting signs of symptoms of the coronavirus (dry cough, shortness of breath, and fever) as well as immediate precautions to be taken if one symptom is present. We have asked you to stay home if you are feeling sick. We have purchased (as much as we can) the antibacterial products and protective personal equipment. As you can imagine supplies are low and our vendors are rationing the products. We have emergency food supplies that we can access and have tested our communication system to make sure we have a quick response system if the need arises.

We are severely restricting visitations and have fully developed plans to prevent, contain, and recover if we have a confirmed case of the coronavirus in one of the people we support and or in one of our direct support staff or other personnel. It is hard to enumerate all we are doing in this email; but I thought I would provide you with some of the activities we are engaged in as a basic response to questions you must have. We are making sure to not panic, to be serious, and to provide fact based information while ensuring that the people we support are emotionally protected. These are extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances and we will rise the occasion, do our best, and rely on our best preparations. The situation is fluid and we will be sure to be flexible and to change course as the facts dictate and as directed by our health professionals and our government officials. Dr. Elizabeth Corrigan, Chief Operating Officer; Susan McGrath, Chief Compliance Officer; Noelia Mango, Director of Clinical Services; Lina Saray, Director of Human Resources; Todd Pinkus, Chief Fiscal Officer; and Ana Koessler, Director of Social Services and Community Engagement are thinking, communicating and adjusting our disaster plan to ensure to the extent possible that we stay safe. Finally, I promise to keep in touch at least weekly until this serious health emergency has passed.

Stay well.