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Human services during the COVID-19 pandemic

April 2020

Ken Bates is the president and CEO of Worcester nonprofit Open Sky Community Services, where he led the $82-million merger of The Bridge of Central Massachusetts and Alternatives Unlimited.


10) Recognize the vital role our human service workforce plays in supporting the most vulnerable people. Many of the individuals supported by health & human service organizations have significant challenges, disabilities and underlying health conditions.

9) Ensure the health and safety of staff, families and individuals served remains the highest priority. With new updates released every day from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is the responsibility of organizational leadership to ensure the agency has accurate protocols.

8) Follow the state's orders and make adjustments as needed. Like many nonprofit organizations, Open Sky had to temporarily suspend most on-site operations in response to Gov. Charlie Baker’s order limiting gatherings of more than 25 people. We still have many employees on the front lines of care, who bravely choose to come to work every day and deliver direct care and support.

7) Reimagine new ways to deliver services. It’s important to think outside the box in how you serve your clients. Our team has made themselves available through telehealth, where meetings with providers can be made virtual.

6) Make sure everyone on your team is in the loop. It’s important to make sure your organization is up to date with the when, how and why of your next action plan. Be transparent and share information in ways brief and easy to digest.

5) Keep communication open at all times. Whether it’s on social media, email, or through a phone line, let the people you serve and your employees know you are here to listen and respond.

4) Refrain from sounding indecisive. Crisis situations call for strong leadership. This is not the time to act on emotions or fear. People need to feel confident the leaders of the organization are making well-informed decisions to keep everyone safe.

3) Look for ways to give back or help the community. Although it is easy to be focused down and in during a crisis like this, it is also important to look for ways you can make things better for the community-at large. Open Sky clinicians produced a series of public videos “Coping During COVID” to help people learn ways to manage anxiety, depression, substance use and other challenges.

2) Never waver on the goal. Remember individuals and families depend on us to provide the best possible support possible at this time. Keep your organization’s mission, and the people you serve, at the forefront of all decision making.

1) Practice, model and promote good self care. As a leader, you are the person people look to as to how they should behave. Demonstrate you take time to recharge. Encourage employees to do the same.

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