Some services need to be in-person; precautions are taken
The novel coronavirus crisis pushed the Jewish Family Services agency to move many of its programs to remote delivery.
On March 24, JFS closed its office on Jackson Street in Milwaukee. Now, as the agency continues offering housing, case management, social services and counseling services, among others, much of that work has moved online.
Kevin Boland, the director of social services at JFS, said the provider has turned to digital platforms like Zoom and Google Duo, or phone calls, to provide telehealth services, for instance. In some cases, he said JFS employees are still going into the community to help clients with matters such as finance, accessing their money or grocery shopping.
“If somebody absolutely needed to see us in person, we would make that arrangement to do that,” Boland said.
One example, he said, is psychiatry. The agency’s psychiatrist is holding hours in the JFS building, while following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect health and safety.
JFS housing programs Bradley Crossing Supportive Housing Community and Deerwood Crossing remain operational, Boland said. Employees continue to visit the complexes every day.
Anne David, the director of clinical services at JFS, said her division has been able to continue to serve clients, but online delivery is not ideal. Although hearing clients describe their experiences in their own words is important, the preferred setting is in-person.
“To take that type of service array and move it remotely is what we really just needed to do in order to not have people have their lives any more disrupted as they already are being by the result of social distancing and self-isolating and quarantining because of the pandemic,” David said. “Those are very necessary measures to keep the community and individuals healthy. We are absolutely on board with that. We also didn’t want people’s services to be disrupted during this time.”
She said internal data show the clinic offered the same number of sessions in March of this year as it did in February and in March 2019.
Overall, Boland said, JFS has seen a gradual uptick in demand for its services.
Some services could not be adapted, though. Boland said JFS typically hosts the Sandy Naimon Breakfast Club on a weekly basis, which provides peer support and socialization for those with mental illness, special needs or developmental delays.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, that gathering is on hold, Boland said.
“There’s phone calls, emails and texts that are going on to try and help support (people who participate),” he said.
As the agency adjusts, Boland said he is also thinking about when the state re-opens. For instance, JFS provides translation services at medical appointments for Russian immigrants and Holocaust survivors. Many of those appointments have been postponed and will likely be rescheduled after the pandemic passes.
“We’re already starting to think about when this is over, because it will end, what it will look like in that first couple of months of getting people to those appointments and doing those translations,” he said.