We were asked the question recently - -how do you care for the caretakers--the people who are on the frontlines of this pandemic, showing up every day, doing their very best to care our community’s most vulnerable, despite the risks.
Because they are doing their very best for the people who need them, we are trying to do our very best for them as well.
PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
We have worked very hard, leaving no stone unturned in the effort to secure necessary PPE ( personal protective equipment) such as masks, gloves and gowns. While extremely challenging, our team has secured supplies as we have most needed them, and we continue to search out additional stock needed for the future. The community has been extremely generous with donations of masks coming from such groups as the United Way of Central Mass and many community groups and private donors.
Increased Pay, Stipends and Incentives
After much advocacy on behalf of our employees, we received additional support from State and Local funders to increase pay rates, stipends and incentives for employees who are caring for the individuals we serve. We have also temporarily changed policies to provide flexibility in schedules for those who may have childcare or other concerns, expanded the use and access to additional Earned Time for various COVID-19 related scenarios and have extended the deadline for staff to use their Earned Time before hitting the cap.
New Models of Care
We have created new models of care such as “Live-In” programs where staff who are willing can live 24/7 in programs and be paid for that time, thereby ensuring staffing consistency and avoiding rotations of staff in and out of programs. In addition, we created COVID Respite Sites for individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 but who may have difficulty maintaining social distancing.
Supervision and Support
We have also provided an extraordinary amount of supervision and support from leaders for programs. Our COVID-19 response task force meets daily, responding to data, concerns, questions and needs on a real-time basis. We created a special email address for employees to send questions and we provide timely replies.
We also have worked hard to communicate frequently and transparently with everyone in our agency. We hold weekly Agency Leadership calls with close to 200 leaders and share that with all of our 1200 employees. We send out Employee Briefings weekly, and also post periodic family and guardian updates to keep the loved ones of our individuals informed.
We also have emphasized the importance of self-care through a challenge created by our clinical team, and we shared a series of 12 4-minute videos they created on our website and with many other organizations. Called Coping During COVID, the series offers helpful skills and suggestions for reducing anxiety, improving sleep, working from home with children, scheduling activities, using DBT skills to calm our minds, and much more.
Grants for Hardship Relief
Finally – we created an Employee Emergency Relief Fund, funded through donations from Executive team members, board members and others, to provide grants of up to $500 to employees experiencing hardship. Our first three weeks, we distributed over $16,000 in grants to more than 40 employees.
Is this enough? No. We continue to search for ways to support our employees. We know that the coming months will be challenging as we move from crisis mode to some sort of new normal. What we also know is that the level of support and communication cannot decrease. Part of our new normal will be a continuation of this culture of support and caring for the people who care for others.