Response to COVID-19 and How You Can Help

July 30, 2020 | News

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Inc. (FREE) remains committed to providing the highest quality of supports and services. Our top priority is the well-being of those we are honored to serve and our dedicated staff. We are committed to serving the needs of the individuals we serve while also having the privilege and responsibility of providing an essential service that our communities rely on.

During this public health crisis, our approach is informed by guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local health officials. We remain committed to our mission and providing many of the services we have offered for over 40 years to Long Island, Queens and New York City.


Update: July 30, 2020

Please see below for FREE’s Day Services Re-Opening Safety Plan

Day Programs Re-Opening Safety Plan

Update: July 15, 2020

Family/Home Visits for Individuals Residing in OPWDD FREE’s Certified Residences

OPWDD’s March 24, 2020 guidance related to home visits is hereby rescinded and replaced with the following guidance.  Effective July 15, 2020 for regions of the State that have entered into Phase Four in accordance the New York Forward Reopening Plan, and until further notice, home visits may recommencefor individuals living within OPWDD certified residential facilities, consistent with the restrictions herein:

Individuals may resume participation in home and family visits with all appropriate risk mitigation strategies in place.  These include safe social distancing, use of masks or other face coverings when tolerated, meticulous attention to hand washing and proper cleaning and disinfection.

Please be reminded that during any off-site visit, exposure to members of different households and to public places, in general, should be done with extreme caution and on a limited basis. Good hygiene must be practiced and safe social distancing should be maintained, whenever possible. Consistent with Executive Order 202.17, masks must be worn in public whenever social distancing cannot be maintained, to the extent they can be medically tolerated.

Individuals may participate in home or family visits only if all of the following circumstances are met:

  1. The individual is not suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, and is not under any quarantine or isolation requirements;
  2. The individual passes a health screen and temperature check immediately prior to leaving and returning to the certified residence;
  3. The individual washes their hands immediately prior to their departure from and return to the residence;
  4. The location(s) of the visit does not include: (a) any household member suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19; (b) any household member who has been exposed to COVID-19 in the prior 14 days; or (c) any household member displays any symptoms of COVID-19 in the preceding 14 days;AND
  5. Families will ensure that individuals are washing and/or sanitizing hands throughout the day, implementing social distancing whenever possible, and wearing face coverings whenever social distancing cannot be maintained in public.

Prior to home visits, staff will discuss strategies to best implement these practices and ensure that families have face coverings if needed.

Families wishing to visiting inside our residences:

This will only be permitted if an individual we support has their own room or if this is a designated space in the home that is conducive to assure adherence to social distancing requirements.  A family may visit for up to one-hour and must wear PPE and maintain 6 feet of distance during the visit.

FREE will not provide transportation during this time for any home visit.

Programs will observe returning residents for signs and symptoms of illness for 14 days after return to the residence.

 For Reintroduction of Individuals to Certified Residences After Extended Home Visits

  • Extended home visit is defined as an overnight visit
  • Family must provide documentation of a COVID-19 test with negative results within 24 hours prior to return.
  • In the 14 days preceding the individual’s return, the residential facility must have no known or suspected cases of COVID-19;
  • The individual must have not knowingly been in close or proximate contact in the past 14 days with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or who has or had symptoms of COVID-19; and
  • Confirm that for the 14 days prior to the individual’s return to the facility, the individual or family members confirms in writing that the individual did not display any COVID symptoms in the 14 days prior to return

Programs will observe returning residents for signs and symptoms of illness for 14 days after return to the residential facility. Therefore, another extended visit cannot be scheduled within 14 days.

Documentation Requirements for Home Visits:

In order to be able to sufficiently trace and track any potential COVID-19 exposure, providers are required to maintain a daily log of all home visits and other visits off-site from the certified residence.

Interim Guidance Regarding Community Outings for Individuals Residing in OPWDD Certified Residential Facilities

Effective July 15, 2020 for regions of the State that have entered into Phase Four in accordance the New York Forward Reopening Plan, community outings may resume for individuals living within OPWDD certified residential facilities. Furthermore, individuals may resume low risk activities, such as going to medical or professional service appointments and work, and participating in community-based outings, as described below, to the extent permitted by NY Forward, and consistent with the restrictions of this guidance and all applicable NYS directives.

  1. Interim Restrictions for Community Outings from Certified Residential Facilities

In order to prevent further community spread or increased risk of infection, residential providers shall ensure that the following conditions are met:

  • Individuals shall not participate in community outings if any individual or staff member working in the home is suspected or confirmed positive for COVID-19;
  • Any person who had close or proximate contact to a confirmed positive individual within the last 14 days, or any person experiencing symptom(s) consistent with COVID-19, such as cough, fever, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, chills, muscle pain, new or worsening headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell must not participate in a community outing. Individuals that are close or proximate contacts or experiencing symptom(s) consistent with COVID-19 should contact their healthcare provider or local health department for recommended next steps;
  • The number of individuals permitted in a community outing shall be within the discretion of the facility, based on the ability to maintain safety, but should be as small as possible. Groups shall include no more than 10 people inclusive of staff members and should be cohorted with individuals in regular contact (e.g. roommates or housemates);
  • Low risk, outdoor activities are encouraged whenever possible;
  • Community outings to stores, outdoor restaurants, salons, etc., should be extremely limited in frequency and duration and must abide by the capacity limitations of such locations; approval must be obtained from the VP in advance of going to a restaurant, shopping malls, etc. as we must collectively participate in reducing risk and cross contamination.
  • FREE, Inc. will arrange for in-home haircutting services to be provided to maximize safety for those interested in this service.
  • Planned recreational community outings should be limited to one location per day for any individual participating;
  • Hands should be washed/sanitized immediately prior to leaving the home and immediately upon return to the home;
  • Staff must bring hand sanitizer and ensure all individuals are washing and/or sanitizing hands throughout the community outing, whenever surfaces such as door handles, counters, public benches, and store shelves are touched;
  • Social distancing principles must be adhered to, to the greatest extent possible;
  • Face coverings must be brought on public outings and individuals must be encouraged to wear the covering at all times. Everyone who is medically able to tolerate a mask must wear one when unable to maintain social distancing;
  • There should be no unnecessary interaction with other members of the public while on a community outing; and
  • When planning outings, staff should be aware of various capacity restrictions for businesses and should consider calling ahead, where possible, to ensure group size can be accommodated

Individuals who participate in community outings without staff present must be provided with hand sanitizer and a face covering and should understand the risks and obligations of public exposure, as well as the expectations regarding reporting as outlined below.

Interim Transportation Requirements for Community Outings

Community outings requiring transportation to and from a location should be implemented on a limited basis and only when providers of certified residential facilities can ensure that all infection control and mitigation strategies will be applied during the transportation of individuals to and from community outings. The following measures will be required in order to transport individuals for community outings:

The following measures will be required for agency vehicles used to transport individuals to home visits:

  • Only individuals and staff from the same facility should be transported together. Individuals and staff from other certified residences shall not be intermingled for purposes of transportation;
  • Capacity on agency buses, vans, and other vehicles should be reduced to no more than 50% of total capacity, to maximize social distancing and reduce COVID-19 transmission risks;
  • To the greatest extent possible, individuals and staff should restrict close contact by not sitting near each other or the driver. Additionally, if there are multiple doors in a bus or van, one-way entering and exiting should be utilized. Individuals should be directed to not exit the vehicle at once, instead following driver or staff instruction on exiting one person at a time;
  • To the extent individuals can medically tolerate one, individuals, staff, and the driver must wear a face covering at all times in the vehicle. Staff who cannot medically tolerate the use of a face covering should not be assigned to transport individuals;
  • After each trip is completed, the interior of the agency vehicle should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before additional individuals are transported;
  • Where appropriate and safe, windows should be rolled down to permit air flow; and
  • Individuals utilizing public or other transit should be reminded of the importance of social distancing and good hygiene and should be provided with hand sanitizer for use immediately following such transportation.

Interim Documentation Requirements for Community Outings

In order to be able to sufficiently trace and track any potential COVID-19 exposure, in addition to the requirements set forth above, providers are required to maintain a daily log of all community outings from the home.

March 2020

We have responded to the pandemic by taking these actions:


• Most importantly we have all of the essential supplies and services to safely care for those we serve. This includes CD approved sanitation supplies as well as the personal protective equipment.

• We launched our own in-house FREE-POD food and supplies delivery service. Demand for grocery delivery has exponentially increased amid the novel coronavirus pandemic while the large service companies are finding it challenging to meet the growing need. FREE-POD delivers door-to-door food and other essential household items and personal protective equipment to each of our homes, independent housing and individuals living with their families. Experienced FREE team members are delivering the items that have been greatly appreciated.

• Streamlining new hire orientation to provide online uninterrupted training and development of new employees

• Redeploying staff and resources to the sites where needed to ensure the continuity of support and services

• Managing staff coverage and being very mindful of the needs of the agency, as well as personal health concerns

• Offering remote services to day and community habilitation to persons living at home to provide continuity of services

• Sanitizing our program sites and residences regularly; deep cleaning as necessary

• Following the safety protocols and visitor restrictions recommended by federal, state and local agencies

• Keeping the people we serve who show symptoms isolated as best as we can, and ensuring they receive appropriate medical care

• Utilizing telemedicine to access medical care virtually

• Encouraging social distancing, as challenging as that is for the healthcare industry

• Keeping the people we serve and those who serve them informed, safe and supported

• FREE administrators and medical personnel are available 24/7 to triage health-related concerns and answer any questions our teams may have

For more information or questions:

We are more than ever committed to the safety, health, and well-being of the people we serve, our staff, and the community.


How can you help us during this challenging time?


As we work together to navigate through the COVID-19 public health crisis, we remain dedicated to providing critical services to the most vulnerable individuals and families who need our support now more than ever.

As we cope with this public health crisis we need your help to ensure that FREE is able to provide increased services and supports in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Your gift to FREE will make a difference and help us continue to address the pressing needs of the thousands of lives who are relying on us right now for their emotional and physical health.

We hope we can count on you to help us by making an online donation.

Thank you so much for your compassion and generosity. We are in this together and we will get through this with the support of caring people like you.