As Maryland relaxes restrictions related to COVID-19, officially entering its “stage three” of recovery in early September, Catholic Charities remains thoughtful and deliberate in determining the best ways to serve while keeping colleagues, volunteers, clients and its communities safe.
Since the first patients with COVID-19 were identified in Maryland six months ago, the organization has put in place a series of safety measures, rolled out new technologies, and shifted programs and services to account for and respond to the impact of the pandemic.
Though the state now allows all businesses to reopen at 50 percent capacity, and allows some to operate at 75 percent capacity or a specific headcount cap, Catholic Charities is maintaining its current safeguards and precautions.
“We don’t see the conditions that we think are important to protect our clients, employees, and other stakeholders,” said Mike Gross, the organization’s chief of information technology and co-chair of the Emergency Preparedness Committee. “Things for the agency haven’t changed – other than so much time has gone by, and that’s weighing on people.”
The organization’s measures range from telehealth and virtual Head Start and Early Head Start learning to custom-cut plexiglass in some locations. Volunteer opportunities are largely still on hold, though some programs have created virtual or distanced opportunities to help, and meal service programs like Our Daily Bread Employment Center are still accepting homemade casseroles.
Significant recent investments in technology positioned Catholic Charities for a fast and effective pivot in March when staff and services needed to move to virtual platforms, Gross said. Six months later, his IT team is solving new challenges, such as how to provide easy and secure ways for clients to sign necessary paperwork.
As the school year starts, parents may be feeling more stress as children return to class, introducing a “whole new home dynamic for many employees, our clients, and the broader population,” Gross said. Coincidentally, Catholic Charities rolled out a robust new employee assistance program that can offer support for staff dealing with stress, grief and other concerns. As a trauma-informed care organization, many resources are available for various life circumstances and challenges. And supervisors have been encouraged to work with individual staff to help support a better balance between their work and family lives.
“We recognize that our colleagues are carrying a great deal,” said Executive Director Bill McCarthy. “Whether it is the fatigue and trauma of our COVID response, the loss of loved ones, the pain of racial injustice, the dilemmas of child care and back-to-school, or all of those things, we know it’s adding up and we want to be as supportive as possible.”
More about the modifications Catholic Charities has made to services and programs because of COVID-19 is available at catholichcharities-md.org/covid19.