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Our Response to COVID-19

Southwest Key Programs / Shelters  / Our Response to COVID-19
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Interim C.E.O. - Joella Brooks

Joella L. Brooks - Interim CEO, Southwest Key Programs

These are stressful and difficult times for all of us. We’ve not seen a pandemic like this, one that has moved so quickly and shut down so much of our country and the world. I’m so thankful for the way our team has responded to keep our staff safe and ensure the safety of those in our care.

I am especially thankful for our direct care staff who continue to care for hundreds of children and youth—they are a shining example of how we live our values every day and continue to show up when the children we serve need us the most.

Our top priority is to protect the health and safety of our people and the youth we care for, while continuing to provide shelter, food, education, medical and other services. It’s a constant balancing act – as we deal with many challenges in a rapidly evolving environment. We are taking every measure we can to limit the transmission of the virus. We are following strict screening, isolation and quarantine protocols consistent with the guidance of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Centers for Disease Control. All staff are following social distancing guidelines and taking aggressive precautions to minimize contact. In partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield, Southwest Key has decided to waive costs for any member of our staff seeking treatment related to COVID-19. The waiver is effective from April 1 through May 31, 2020. This includes any cost-sharing, deductibles, copayments and coinsurance for testing, treatment or other care related to COVID-19. Employees currently enrolled in our medical plan are eligible to participate.

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At our shelters, we are implementing strict intake processes. We perform wellness checks and assess vital signs at intake while regularly taking temperatures and monitoring for potential symptoms. Prior to each shift, staff are screened for potential symptoms of COVID-19. Anyone who initially presents symptoms is sent home to self-quarantine for two weeks with pay. We’ve also stepped up standards for sanitation and infection control.

We’re asking clinicians, case workers and others who work supporting essential direct services for children and youth to do their work remotely if possible. For all others whose work involves providing direct services to children and youth that cannot be done remotely, we are working with our funding sources to discuss plans that minimize risk to our staff while continuing to care for our children and youth. In our regional offices we’ve transitioned many positions to remote work. In our Youth Justice programs, we’ve transitioned many of our programs to virtual platforms and alternative modules to reduce potential exposure. Our workforce office is temporarily closed to the public and staff are following social distancing, hand washing and intensive sanitation measures.

We’ve distributed employment verification documentation to support those who live and work in areas instructed to shelter in place.  Our staff – including our HR and Risk & Safety teams – are available 24/7 to support us. We’ve created dedicated channels and resources for staff to stay up to date on COVID-19 issues and are continuously assessing safety and operations based on rapidly changing circumstances.

Southwest Key’s medical team meets daily with operational leaders to discuss best practices, new training modules and answer all questions. We closely monitor CDC, OSHA and ORR guidance. COVID-19 is an unprecedented crisis in which even medical professionals and first responders are struggling to source adequate personal protective equipment. We’ve created a centralized process to track and allocate personal protective equipment to staff with higher exposure risks and are providing N-95 masks and gloves. Our team is working around the clock to find more equipment and expect to have additional masks and protective gear into the hands of staff soon.

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I’ve been so inspired by the heroic and amazing work of our people. Regardless of the obstacles, our staff has responded in creative and collaborative ways to ensure the health and safety of our teams, and children and youth in our care, while ensuring we can continue operating. This pandemic will continue to test our organization and our nation in the months ahead. I know we will keep rising to the challenge.