Few businesses have been immune to the pandemic. That holds true nationwide and also here in northeast Indiana. We talked with business leaders from a variety of industries to see how their businesses have adapted and are moving forward. We could not fit all of the responses in print, please go to businesspeople.com to read the complete answers from these leaders.
How have your business and employees been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis? Unfortunately the COVID-19 crisis happened during our busiest time of year. Our office has remained open for drop-offs and pick-ups, however, we were unable to meet with clients in person during this time period. We have been able to utilize other communication methods to stay in contact with our clients. Most of our employees are able to work from home to limit person to person to contact. Through our significant investment in technology, we are able to continue to provide our clients the services that they need from remote locations. We continue to monitor and adjust our strategy as necessary.
The extended tax deadlines have obviously lengthened our tax season giving us more time to complete the required tax filings. The coronavirus pandemic has also created new opportunities for us to help our clients, as they navigate through this time. For instance, assisting clients in applying for the Payroll Protection Program. The DWD Technology Group has also been able to assist our clients with the challenges of working from home.
Is your business operating in a new-normal way? The face-to-face meetings have been eliminated and replaced with virtual meetings.
Words of wisdom for other business leaders? During this time of uncertainty, it is important to remain flexible, keep an open mind and be adaptive to the ever-changing situation.
Many business owners may need assistance navigating through the challenges of the new government programs. We encourage them to reach out to their trusted advisor.
How have your business and employees been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis? What has occurred over the last month or so in reaction to the COVID-19 virus has effected Blue Jacket operations greatly, but has also given us a keen sense of how to best pivot - quickly - to meet the needs of our clients and, as it turns out, our fellow nonprofit agencies. We struggled to find the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), namely face masks and respirators, because they are in short supply everywhere. Some family members of staff have donated what respirators they could find in their garages.
Since March 31, we have been able to offer deep cleaning and sanitization services through Blue Jacket Janitorial free of charge to area nonprofits thanks to a "Rapid Innovation Grant" through the Foellinger Foundation. After the funding for that was used up, the City of Fort Wayne was able to fund our operations for an additional 2 months, going into June. Since we started this service, Blue Jacket has served over 40 requests from local nonprofit organizations. This is allowing nonprofits, who often work on very tight budgets, to receive the cleaning and sanitization services they need to continue safely serving the community while also providing jobs to individuals who would otherwise not be working.
The best way for the community to help us is to keep our programming in mind. Blue Jacket Career Academy and Blue Jacket Staffing are poised to provide soft skill training and job placement services to anyone who needs them once we all come out on the other side of this coronavirus crisis. We want nothing more than to be back in business supporting individuals with barriers to employment. We have big plans for the months and years to come, but we need the support of our community to make it all happen. The community‘s client referrals, volunteer hours, monetary donations, and clothing donations are what keep us going year after year.
Is your business operating in a new-normal way? I think the new normal way is something that every organization is going through. Our staff at Blue Jacket has mostly been working from home as much as possible, which is a blessing. But there are some, specifically dealing with the cleaning crews that assemble and disperse daily to area nonprofits, who need to be in the office to effectively do their jobs. We have been working hard to come up with policies and procedures that provide them with the safest possible work environments and we revisit those policies weekly, sometimes even daily.
Do you expect your business to survive this crisis? We do, but there are many reasons for that. For one, we have benefitted greatly from the generosity of so many in this area, from individuals to foundations who stood behind us and our mission of making sure those who came to us for help finding employment were afforded every opportunity within our power to continue to work. But also, we are proud that we were both willing and able to pivot by ways of daily operations to continue to meet the needs of our clients through creating employment opportunities in our deep cleaning services. The fruits of that labor are starting to show signs of lasting far beyond our self-quarantine period. Many of the nonprofits we have served by way of our free cleaning services have expressed an interest in maintaining that service in a paid capacity. For a bit of background, 80% of Blue Jacket graduates have been able to either find employment on their own or be placed through Blue Jacket Staffing consistently over the past 5 years. That leaves 20% who we are unable to help. With new opportunities arising, like these opportunities that are now going to be available, we are going to be able to employ more people who graduate from our program. And that has only shown itself possible because of our ability to think outside the box and for those who came alongside of us the past two months.
Words of wisdom for other business leaders? There is no guidebook for how to handle the crisis we find ourselves in now. Leadership at Blue Jacket, every step along the way, have had their eyes on the well-being of our employees and graduates and done what we felt was the right thing to go by them and the organizations we serve. Not all of those decisions were the right ones, and we were not afraid to pivot and move in a different direction. But the reasons behind those decisions are always predicated in doing the right thing.
How have your business and employees been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis? Since Easterseals Arc offers so many different types of services for people with disabilities, we had to look at each program – and, in some cases, each individual we serve – to determine how we needed to adapt to the pandemic. Programs that involved gathering groups of people together, like our day programs and recreation, were shut down in mid-March. But we still needed to support many of those individuals, so we reassigned staff from day programs to residential services and had to think about how we could deliver more support virtually. Financially, the loss of revenue from service changes plus the cost of PPE, cleaning supplies and services, and new technology for remote work is a tremendous challenge that we will be working to overcome for a significant period. But the positive side is that we were able to keep the vast majority of our staff working, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons about teamwork and flexibility that will make us stronger moving forward.
How is your business operating in a new-normal way? There are some aspects of doing business that we hope are “temporary normal” for us and so many others—things like screening staff and consumers for symptoms each day; wearing face masks; limiting face-to-face meetings. But we’ve learned a lot about remote work that could be implemented in a long-term “new normal.” For example, our employment specialists can use what they’ve learned during the pandemic to better serve individuals who may not be able to meet face to face for a variety of reasons. Also, I’m extremely proud of the way our staff worked together to make sure our consumers received all the support they needed. If they were working at a different site or a different shift or with different co-workers, they gained a new appreciation and understanding for the full range of our mission. This is something that we’ll work to build on, whatever the future brings.
How is your business handling the gradual reopening and return to normal? We began a phased in reopening of our day programs on June 1. To do this, we considered guidelines from the state; recommendations from the CDC; the needs and risks of our consumers and staff; and our available resources. We determined that we could safely serve groups of four individuals, with appropriate screening, handwashing, PPE, and cleaning. In the weeks ahead, we will phase in additional groups. We also reopened our respite house at the beginning of June, which has been a been a blessing for many families. Unfortunately, we still have not resumed community outings and other group activities that are too risky.
Words of wisdom for other business leaders? As a nonprofit providing essential services to people with disabilities, the challenges for Easterseals Arc are different from the challenges for other businesses. No matter your industry, however, I think it’s important for business leaders to remember that everything we do is about people. No business can succeed without staff or customers, so think about how each decision affects them. And when those decisions are painful or unpopular, be honest and empathetic when explaining them.
How have your business and employees been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis? COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of Visiting Nurse. Because we care for a medically fragile population, we have had to make use of Personal Protective Equipment for each visit to a home health, hospice or palliative care patient we serve. This equipment is vital to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring we continue to deliver services to those who need us most in our community. We are also unable to care for our patients who are in nursing homes that have visitor restrictions, and our ability to enroll new patients has been impacted by doctor office shutdowns.
How is your business operating in a new-normal way? Visiting Nurse began to see COVID-related challenges in early March. We quickly learned that in order to keep our team safe we needed to limit our times we are together. Effective March 23 we moved to home offices for our administrative staff and began offering some telehealth visits for our palliative clinic, grief clients and hospice/home health patients. Our intake and nursing phonelines continued to operate 24 hours a day, and we continued to care for nearly 300 patients in the 11 counties we serve in the region.
How is your business handling the gradual reopening and return to normal? Visiting Nurse created a Back on Track plan that aligned with Gov. Holcomb’s reopening plan. Our goal is to take care of our caregivers so they can continue to support our patients. This includes slowly allowing administrative staff members back in our offices and taking the necessary steps to be sure we all stay healthy. We will begin seeing grief clients and holding grief support groups July 5.
Words of wisdom for other business leaders? The most important thing we’ve learned from this crisis is to be flexible. We understand that in order to provide the best compassionate care, we need to first be compassionate to our team members. In our line of work, life-limiting illnesses don’t stop when there is a pandemic. There will always be a need for hospice and palliative care. Supporting our employees during this time was key: with all the concerns over COVID, we knew it would be so important for our employees to know that we value and support them during this epidemic.