COVID-19: Impacts on DHS Programs

COVID-19 is impacting several DHS programs. You can find out more information on how it's impacting a specific program here.

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ForwardHealth Program Updates
Updates for members of adult and children's long-term care programs, Medicaid programs, and FoodShare.

 

Impacts on DHS programs

ADRCs (Aging and Disability Resource Centers)

ADRC Services during COVID-19 Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, ADRCs continue to provide community members with information, assistance, and counseling related to long-term care and other programs and services for older adults and adults with disabilities. To protect the health and safety of customers and staff, in-person office hours and home visits are currently limited at most locations. Call your local ADRC if you have any questions.  Find an ADRC in your area.

Elder Nutrition Programs

Learn about considerations for running elder nutrition programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hepatitis C Program

HIV Program

COVID-19 is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation.

We want to support you in understanding COVID-19 and what steps can be taken to keep you and your family and friends safe.

While the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 for people with HIV is not known, people with HIV and their loved ones may have concerns and questions related to their risk. To assist you, here are important information resources from the federal government and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

OBVI (Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired)

OBVI Services Limited During COVID-19 Outbreak

For the health and safety of our consumers and staff, OBVI rehabilitation specialists will not be providing in-home services to consumers until further notice. The majority of the consumers we serve are over 70 years old and have at least one secondary health condition. We cannot risk putting vulnerable adults in danger.

OBVI staff will continue to support our consumers in the best way possible. Services that will continue include:

  • Providing information and referral by phone and email.
  • Providing as much training as possible via telephone and email.
  • Calling consumers to offer support and resources and to be sure they are safe and have what they need.
  • Communicating with support groups to suggest holding group meetings via telephone.
  • Researching community resources that would be useful during times of isolation (for example, finding stores that are designating the first hour of operation for only those of vulnerable populations) and relaying that information to consumers.
  • Ordering equipment for consumers or mailing equipment that has already been purchased.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact OBVI via email or call our toll free phone number at 1-888-879-0017.

ODHH (Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing)

Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing staff are still working remotely to administer the programs and services our community needs. In addition, we have compiled a number of resources to help inform the Deaf and hard of hearing communities during the COVID-19 crisis.

American Sign Language Videos

National resources:

ODHH sign language interpreter testing

Due to COVID-19, the Department of Health Services (DHS) building is closed to the public. Because of this, ODHH is unable to offer the Test of English Proficiency (TEP) at this time. Please check the BEI webpage for updated test dates as they become available. 

The BEI performance tests require Texas to provide training to all performance test administrators. These trainings are provided in person; however, due to COVID-19, Texas is in the process of figuring out a new approach for this training. We are waiting to hear from them regarding next steps. This means the performance tests will likely not be ready to be offered at the same time as the TEP.

Older Americans Act (OAA) Programs

Additional funding providing by Congress through the CARES Act for the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) should be used to expand the capacity and range of services available to help family caregivers provide support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds are being distributed to Wisconsin Counties for traditional NFCSP services with the understanding that funds should be used to promote innovative strategies for service delivery and the use of technology to provide caregiver counseling, respite, training, and connect people to information and caregiver support services.

  • Agencies may begin charging expenses to CARES Act funding on April 1, 2020.
  • The deadline to spent CARES Act funding is September 30, 2021.
  • Agencies are encouraged to charge COVID-19-related expenditures to CARES Act funding first, before spending annually contracted Older Americans Act (OOA) funding.
Changes in Policy Related to Providing Caregiver Support Services
  1. In the past, the State of Wisconsin has limited payments to in-home provider agencies, extended family members and friends of primary caregivers. In response to the paid caregiver shortage, social distancing advisories, and the reality that many family members are reluctant to invite outsiders into the home of older adults at-risk of contracting COVID-19, DHS is temporarily amending this policy. As of May 1, 2020, all caregivers, including primary caregivers, who are eligible to enroll in AFCSP and NFCSP may receive a stipend. If funding is running low, priority should be given to low-income caregivers who have been laid-off, furloughed or have lost a job.

    Time spent performing the following tasks may be eligible for an hourly stipend using the Title III-E or AFCSP when pre-approved by the county caregiver program coordinators:
    • Bathing and grooming
    • Meal preparation and feeding
    • Housekeeping chores, such as cleaning and doing laundry
    • Grocery shopping and other errands
    • Lawn care and home maintenance
    • Transportation to and from doctor appointments, scheduling appointments, or participating in appointments by phone or internet
    • Managing banking, household bills, and other financial transactions
    • Emergency preparation and planning for oneself or the care recipient
    • Purchasing technology, caregiver training, or internet services needed to maintain connections with medical and other care providers, friends, and family members while adhering to social distancing guidelines
    • Managing medications and coordinating with qualified health care professionals, including pharmacists
    • Grandparent and relative caregiver support
    • Any other activity currently reimbursable under Title III-E and the AFCSP
    Local agencies are responsible for setting the non-professional rate for stipends and for providing instructions to primary caregivers, extended family members, and friends on how caregiving hours should be documented and submitted for payment. The stipend rate should be less than hiring a professional agency, but may be higher than the minimum wage. In the past, stipends have generally ranged between $10 and $15 per hour. Agencies are also responsible for maintaining documentation to justify expenditures. Guidance for establishing a policy to provide stipends has been distributed to county and tribal AFCSP and NFCSP coordinators. It is also available on the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources (GWAAR) website or by contacting Lynn Gall, Wisconsin Family and Caregiver Support Program Manager.

    Caregivers are personally responsible for determining the tax implications of receiving stipends, as well as for understanding how earning a stipend may impact their eligibility for unemployment and other public benefits. Caregiver program coordinators may assist caregivers in gathering information they need to make a determination about the impact stipends may have on tax liabilities and other benefits, but program coordinators may not advise or provide legal advice about these issues. However, NFCSP and AFCSP may be used to pay for caregivers to consult with a financial advisor or attorney to help make these determinations. Free benefits counseling is also available to caregivers age 60+ through the elder benefit specialist program or to caregivers of all ages through the GWAAR Guardianship Support Center.
  2. The 20% cap on supplemental services expenditures for Title III-E is temporarily suspended until the end of 2020.
  3. The 112 hour annual limit on NFCSP caregiver respite is temporarily suspended until December 31, 2020. Agencies may approve respite as needed based on results of the required AFCSP and NFCSP family caregiver needs assessment and available funds.
  4. An online version of Powerful Tools for Caregivers (PTC) classes will be available in June 2020. To obtain the necessary training to host an online PTC class, contact Judy Rank at the Wisconsin Institute for Health Aging at 608-243-5690. 
  5. Any policy for paying a non-professional stipend must be applied equally to all program participants. 
Best Practices

Family caregivers face special challenges during this time of self-isolation. The person in their care needs them to be physically healthy and emotionally strong, which takes extra effort during a pandemic. Below are guidelines to help Family Caregiver Support Program coordinators and ADRC staff serve caregivers in days ahead. Providing information based on medical science with the goal of keeping caregivers connected to relatives, friends and advice from qualified professionals is the best way to help caregivers maintain peace of mind.

  1. Emphasize prevention.
    Ensure that you and everyone in the household follows CDC guidelines:
    • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
    • Avoid close contact with others as much as possible (about 6 feet), and wear a face mask.
    • Stay home when sick, except to get needed medical care.
    • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
    • Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily. (e.g., tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet, refrigerator and appliance handles)
    • For disinfection, a list of products with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval is available at Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products.
  2. Know who is at greatest risk.
    According to the CDC, older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for more serious complications from COVID-19. If a caregiver or household member is at increased risk for COVID-19 complications, they should take extra precaution to minimize potential exposures and consult with their health care provider to monitor their health and symptoms.
  3. Watch for COVID-19 symptoms.
    If a caregiver suspects they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and develops a fever, cough or other symptoms, or experiences difficulty breathing, advise them to immediately call their healthcare provider for medical advice. 
  4. Designate a room at home that can be used to isolate sick household members.
    Identify a separate room and bathroom for a sick or potentially exposed person to use, if possible. Plan to clean these rooms regularly. Learn how to care for someone at home.
  5. Create an emergency plan.
    Advise caregivers to speak with family and friends about what they and the care recipient are likely to need if the primary caregiver needs to self-isolate. Encourage caregivers to ask others to volunteer to ensure these needs are met, and make sure the caregiver creates an emergency contact list and instructions about medications and specific care needs in case the caregiver becomes ill. Remind them that their local aging and disability resource center (ADRC) can assist in creating an emergency plan.
  6. Make a list of contacts and community resources.
    Advise caregivers to create a current list of contacts for family, friends, neighbors, carpool drivers, health care providers, teachers, employers, the local public health department and the Aging and Disability Resource Center. Include help lines such as:
    • Alzheimer's Association 24/7 Helpline: 800-272-3900, or live chat.
    • Caregiver Action Network Caregiver Help Desk: 855-227-3640, or live chat.
    • Institute on Aging Friendship Line—crisis intervention hotline and a "warmline" for non-emergency emotional support calls: 800-971-0016
    • Disaster Distress Helpline—free, 24/7 crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters (options for Deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish speakers): 800-985-5990, or text "TalkWithUs" to 66746.
  7. Caregiver program coordinators should keep abreast of changes.
    Changes may occur in daily operations of ADRCs and other community support agencies in accordance with state orders and CDC recommendations. Please call to find out details, as the following guidelines are being enforced at varying degrees across the state. Changes may include:
    • Suspension of classes and support groups. Some are being transitioned to phone or online.
    • Suspension of in-home and in-office visits and offering visits by phone instead.
    • Closure of congregate dining sites with options for picking up meals or delivery of meals.
  8. Take advantage of technology and virtual supports such as telephone support groups, webinars, tele-events, and message boards from the following organizations:
    • Alzheimer's Association offers a variety of online and virtual supports, in addition to a telephone support group for Wisconsin caregivers on Tuesdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and Thursdays from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Register by calling 800-272-3900 and ask for Wisconsin support group information.
    • ALZConnected is a free, online community for anyone affected by Alzheimer's or other dementia, that includes message boards and a caregivers forum.
    • Caregiver Teleconnection holds weekly live call-in events, as well as archived programs all relating to caring for someone who is older or disabled.
    • Alzheimer's Foundation of America hosts webinars that are accessible online.
    • Family Caregiver Alliance has online caregiver support groups.
  9. Interactions with nursing homes, community-based residential facilities (CBRFs), and assisted living.
    Always call in advance to learn their most recent policies about visiting. The Department of Health Services has issued guidance restricting visits to all residential care facilities. Stay in touch by phone, email, and U.S. mail until restrictions are lifted.
  10. Resources for grandparents and relative caregivers of a child.
  11. Encourage caregivers to discuss their circumstances with their employer.
    Telework may be an option, as well as leave options. Remind them to emphasize that someone else's health is dependent on them remaining well.
  12. Prioritize emotional health and stress management.
    Encourage them to make time to unwind, call a friend or spiritual advisor, listen to music or engage in other relaxing activities. Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news about COVID-19. Connect with family and friends by phone or consider connecting via conference call or video conferencing. Free Conference Call, FreeConference, and Zoom are a few platforms that allow multiple people to talk or video chat.
  13. Stay informed about the local COVID-19 situation.
    Get up-to-date information about local COVID-19 activity from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website.

Radon Mitigation

The American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists released Radon Mitigation Jobsite Guidance During COVID-19. Social distancing and jobsite safety guidance for best practices to keep contractors and customers protected when radon work is performed.

Reproductive Health Family Planning

COVID-19 Patient Resources

Family Planning Services

Pregnancy Testing

  • Complete home pregnancy test.
  • If you have questions, call your local provider or clinic with the date of your last menstrual period and last date of unprotected intercourse.
  • Emergency contraception will not disrupt an implanted pregnancy or harm a pregnancy.

Birth Control during COVID-19

Reproductive Health Access Project: Birth Control Choices

Birth Control Refills during COVID-19

  • Request a telephone visit from your clinic or provider.
  • Call your clinic for refills by mail or curbside delivery.

Birth Control Methods (IUD and Nexplanon) about to expire during COVID-19

  • Nexplanon: FDA approved for three years; based on current research, can be in place for five years
  • Liletta: FDA approved for six years; based on current research, can be in place for seven years
  • Mirena (same dose of levonorgestrel as Liletta): FDA approved for five years; based on current research, can be in place for seven years
  • Skyla: FDA approved and evidence-based for three years
  • Kyleena: FDA approved and evidence-based for five years
  • Paragard: FDA approved for 10 years; based on current research, can be in place for 12 years

Birth Control Methods (IUD and Nexplanon) truly expired even by current research recommendations

  • Use condoms.
  • Use emergency contraception pills.
  • Call your clinic and ask to talk about other possible options for contraception.

Depo-Provera (Depo shot) during COVID-19

Depo lasts for 15 weeks. If it's past 15 weeks, use condoms, or emergency contraception pills. Call your local provider or clinic to discuss options.

Emergency contraception during COVID-19

Paragard (IUD) is the most effective option but if the services are not available, then Ella is the next best option. Let your provider know if you are breastfeeding.

Sexual activity, sexually transmitted diseases during COVID-19

Sexual assault, intimate partner violence, domestic violence

Additional educational resources

Contact your local health department.

WIC (Women, Infants and Children)

WIC Wisconsin LogoDue to the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, some WIC-related misinformation has been spreading on social media.

WIC is still open for business

WIC serves nearly 7 million mothers and young children per month (including 53% of all infants born in the U.S.) through 10,000 clinics nationwide in all 50 states.

In Wisconsin, our 69 WIC local agencies are continuing to serve WIC families, although we are adjusting the way we handle appointments. Most are being conducted remotely over the phone.

  • WIC benefits remain valid. We are not planning to make any changes to the way in which participants receive their benefits. Benefits are issued remotely to a participant's eWIC card.W
  • WIC foods are still available. Please be assured that this is not a food shortage. Manufacturer warehouses are fully stocked with WIC approved foods.

Grocery stores are waiting for their regular shipments, so we’re encouraging participants to shop early in the morning to increase their likelihood of finding fully stocked shelves.

WIC remains in touch. WIC is keeping participants updated with the latest information and providing resources during this time on Facebook and Instagram at @WICMomStrong. WIC families are our top priority. Above all, we want everyone to stay healthy and safe.

Questions? Connect with us if you have questions or concerns. If you have specific questions related to your area, please reach out to your local WIC clinic. 

Fraud Alert! USDA warns of scams related to coronavirus targeting SNAP recipients. Read the full details.

WisTech (Wisconsin's Assistive Technology Act Program)

WisTech uses project partners to provide device loans, device demonstrations, and re-utilized equipment. Due to COVID-19, most of these partners have modified or suspended device loans, demonstrations, and reused services. These changes to the programs are temporary and services will resume when it is safe to do so. If you have questions or need assistance, please contact us via email or by calling 608-514-2513.

Last Revised: October 19, 2020