It’s been 22 days since Governor DeWine initially declared a state of emergency in Ohio. While there were things happening related to the coronavirus prior to that, that March 9 declaration began to really change our world. We began limiting travel, canceling in-person training and increasing the cleaning regimen in the building. Schools were still open, but not for long. We sent out our pandemic contingency plan in the event the pandemic took hold. Unfortunately, it did.
Consider where we have been since then:
On March 12, we began, in force, implementing that pandemic plan. Field workers who could immediately work from home began to do so. We swiftly deployed resources to ensure they had remote working capabilities. Here’s a portion of the email I sent that day to my staff: “JFS is vital to this community and people count on us to be there in the worst of times. This is among the most difficult times of our lifetime. With that in mind, we will do everything we can to ensure we still provide vital services to our clients in the safest manner possible…”
And we have.
When Gov. DeWine announced schools would close March 16, our world changed even more. The county took the unprecedented step to grant emergency leave to staff impacted by the coronavirus. By this point, we had implemented our curbside intervention and drop box, dramatically cutting building traffic. Virtually all agency business was being conducted over the phone or online. Field staff were outfitted with gloves and hand sanitizer.
That day, I issued a call to action to all staff that concluded by asking each of my staff members who would be the safety net in this time of crisis: “If not us, then who? These are extraordinary times and they call for extraordinary people. This community needs us and counts on us. We are the safety net. I ask you to rally for your coworkers and your community. Whether it was 30 years ago or 30 days ago, we all signed up to be public servants. Now is our time to live up to that title.”
And they have. We are making a difference and changing lives.
When Gov. DeWine issued a “Stay at Home” order that forced most to retreat to their homes and ultimately resulted in massive job losses, he identified JFS employees and our services as essential and JFS continued to serve our community. In an email the following day I said: “We stand as a bridge to provide access to the critical and ongoing needs of our community.”
And they did.
At that point, lobby traffic was nonexistent and nearly 50% of our employees were no longer in the building. On March 24, our situation became even more surreal when we began, as the result of a governor’s order, taking staff temperatures as they entered the building. Unemployment claims in the State of Ohio jumped 8,000% from pre-coronavirus levels.
We provided a letter authorizing employees to travel during the stay-at-home order because they are essential, providing badly needed services to our community. We saw a huge spike in calls for food assistance. We responded. Additional resources were deployed to help with these new applications. We rose to the challenge. Our field staff continued to protect the children and elderly. Now, more than 70% of our staff are out of the building, with Information Systems working non-stop so more can be sent, laptops in hand, to work from home. The challenges to doing our work came fast and furious and the community counted on us to meet those challenges.
And we have.
I’m proud. So proud. These three short weeks in some ways have felt like a lifetime, but in other ways, like not nearly enough time to accomplish all we have accomplished. We have transformed ourselves to meet the needs of Hamilton County’s families and children. I thank my employees for never wavering in their resolve to serve this community.