This article from Wednesday’s Albany Times Union is another reminder of the impact that the coronavirus has to the human service sector including foster care, day schools and residential housing for youth.
Over twenty five statewide human services agencies that comprise the #3for5 campaign have been aligned in advocating for discreet funding for the sector as many of our members are in the front line of fighting the pandemic. They are in communities everyday working to provide support, housing and food security for those in greatest need.
Anxiety high at foster care and behavioral health facilities as virus spreads
Leaders looking to pay boost for staff, teachers
Rachel Silberstein March 25, 2020
Staff at foster care and behavioral health facilities in the Capital Region say they are fearful of exposure to COVID-19 since their duties require extensive physical contact with children.
While administrators have enacted some social distancing measures, the crisis has forced the schools to compete with hospitals and senior facilities for increasingly scarce protective gear – gloves and masks – and cleaning supplies, according to advocates.
“We have been pushing the state and local health departments to try to find out if they have any protective equipment. The state is doing what it can, but healthcare is a priority,” said Mary Jane Dessables, director of research at The Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA). “We need to get the equipment to our staff, but it seems like it doesn’t exist.”
The non-profits typically provide a day-school for families in the greater Albany area as well as residential housing for the youths struggling with trauma, mental health, or behavior issues who do not have safe homes to return to. Lessons and therapy have gone remote, as mandated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s social distancing directives, but the facilities must remain open to provide recreational programs and round-the-clock supervision for hundreds of children and teens who live on the premises.
When New York went on lockdown this week to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, direct care facilities were deemed an essential service. These professional caregivers point out that they are chronically underpaid due to state and federal regulations setting their salaries. Unlike health care workers, they lack substantial paid leave benefits and have minimal infection control training.
Anthony Cortese, the executive director of St. Anne Institute, said the facility is short-handed and that staff who do report to work are wary of being exposed.
“We are trying to give staff options and help them work through their anxiety,” Cortese said. “Our biggest problem is that kids are usually asymptomatic. We try to have common sense precautions; we are keeping groups small and contained.”
At Northern Rivers Family Services, which serves more than 300 children and teens, more than 100 of them residential, the “situation is fluid, it’s changing every day,” CEO Bill Gettman said.
Several children have been held in isolation at the facility before being released after being cleared by a doctor, Gettman said, noting that children are checked for symptoms daily.
“We are trying to adjust our policies, we are using technologies, we are trying to do more on the cleaning and environmental side, and we have limited the number of staff,” Gettman said. “Our staff are very valuable to us and we know we need to be fair and reasonable and protect them too.”
The precautions appear to have done little to alleviate stress among employees, who, earning $13 an hour, say they can’t afford to stay home from work.
“My son has asthma, I go in every day not knowing what I’m bringing home,” said one employee who declined to share their name.
Last week, after a teen’s fever set off a frenzy in the building, a staff physician sent out a note, obtained by the Times Union, urging calm and noting that adolescent girls on their periods and menopausal women can sometimes run a low-grade fever.
Jacklyn Yusko, chief executive officer at St. Catherine’s Center for Children, said administrators are working to secure additional pay for workers and improve morale.
“We are appealing to our donor base and thinking about how we can provide gift cards or other incentives, and really tokens of gratitude around how these staff members are putting themselves out there on the front lines with these kids,” Yusko said.