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'It's been a challenge': Pandemic takes a toll on people with intellectual disabilities

By Daniela Altimari, The Hartford Courant on

Published in News & Features

"The virus has created incredible challenges for the individuals we support and the way such supports are provided," said Krista Ostaszewski, a department spokeswoman.

"Our community has faced tragic loss and immense hardship, but in the face of adversity we continue to seek inspiration from the actions of kindness, support and perseverance that help us move forward together," Ostaszewski said.

"We felt like he had a good life."

Sixty-one-year-old John Joseph Griffin Jr., known to everyone as "Jackie," was a decorated Special Olympian who worked for years at J.C. Penney and lived in a group home in Simsbury.

He fell ill over the summer. "He was having problems swallowing," said his mother, Frances Griffin. After his release from the hospital, he was sent to Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center in East Hartford.

"One day they called my daughter and said 'your brother's not doing so good,'" Frances Griffin said. "So we all went over to see him ... the next day he passed away."


Jackie Griffin died on Aug. 29; his death certificate lists COVID-19, but his parents said they aren't sure exactly what happened. "They said he had the virus but we don't know what he died of," Frances Griffin said.

Their son lived with them until he was 50. One of his — and his parents' — proudest moments occurred in 1980, when he graduated from Conard High School and was given a standing ovation by his classmates.

"We felt like he had a good life," Frances Griffin said.

The heightened risks faced by people with developmental and intellectual disabilities has raised questions about the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine. Historically, these individuals have faced discrimination and other barriers to quality health care, and, advocates say, they deserve to be near the front of the line when a vaccine becomes available.


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