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COVID's impact, resilience

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Research examines pandemic’s effects on Delawareans with disabilities

Box of food being handed to individual sitting in wheelchair

​UD researchers explored the experiences of people with disabilities in Delaware during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 17 million pounds of food was distributed to the community through Food Bank programs.

Researchers with the University of Delaware’s Center for Drug and Health Studies have released a report they produced exploring the experiences of people with disabilities in Delaware during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report, “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on People with Disabilities in Delaware: Disproportionate Risk. Devastating Impact. Emerging Resilience,” covers January through December 2020 and was written by co-principal investigators Eileen Sparling and Rochelle Brittingham, with research assistants Ilia King, Natalie Walton and Madeline Stenger. They conducted the research to focus on those with disabilities, who they say have been “among the most vulnerable segments of the population due to disproportionate risks associated with comorbid conditions, congregate settings and reliance on in-person services to support independence.”

The researchers also created an online visual story map to highlight their findings.

The report explores the support systems that enable people with disabilities to lead engaged lives in the community but which, the researchers say, are easily disrupted.

“The impacts the disability community experienced [during the pandemic] included a devastating loss of life, severe challenges to the structures that support independent living, extended social isolation and disrupted service delivery across life domains,” the report says. The researchers also examined ways in which the community responded to fill the gaps.

“The resilience of this community, and the actions that were taken in the darkest points of the pandemic to protect and ensure a chance to thrive, provide a path forward to enhance systems for the future,” they wrote. “Building on the actions of the past year will decrease vulnerabilities and disparities and move Delaware forward to fully protect people with disabilities in future public health emergencies.”

Some of the findings about the impact of the pandemic on those with disabilities in the state are:

  • There were 198,284 individuals living with a disability in 2020, according to the Delaware Division of Public Health.

  • The mortality rate in Delaware’s long-term care facilities was reported at 29%, nearly 15 times the overall state rate; deaths among facility residents account for over half the state’s total.

  • In Delaware, it is reported that 6.84% of people with disabilities over age 65 reside in nursing homes.

  • More than 17 million pounds of food was distributed to the community through Food Bank programs. Homeless individuals living in motels received 353,009 meals and snacks, 167,726 backpack meals were distributed to kids in need, and 33 drive-through food distributions served 42,847 households, according to the Food Bank of Delaware.

  • During 2020, 4,471 people received check-in calls and 444 had essential goods delivered to their homes from the state Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities and the Delaware Aging Network.

  • The senior centers in Delaware submitted applications with a wide array of requests: funding to buy technology, teach people how to use the technology, and virtual programming including Zumba classes, Bible studies, yoga classes and others. Senior centers saw hundreds of participants access virtual programming to stay connected during the course of the pandemic.

  • By June 30, 2021, there were 1,695 COVID-19 related deaths reported in Delaware. This is a mortality rate of 13.7 per 10,000 people. Of those deaths, 83% were residents 65 or older.

Funding for the report was provided by the Freedom Center for Independent Living in Middletown, Delaware, through a grant from the Administration on Community Living.

The Center for Drug and Health Studies, housed in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, conducts collaborative research on substance use disorders, behavioral health, health risk behaviors and justice system policy. Funded primarily through research grants and contracts, it provides a national focus as well as service to the state of Delaware.

Article by Ann Manser

Published Dec. 21, 2021

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Researchers with UD's Center for Drug and Health Studies have released a report detailing the devastating impact of the COVID pandemic on Delawareans with disabilities.
12/17/2021
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COVID's impact, resilience