As we head into winter with the pandemic still raging, we wish our entire COA community health and safety. We know that many of our organizations provide essential services and have quickly implemented practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19. On behalf of the staff and board of COA, thank you for your continued service to your communities. We are inspired by your dedication and flexibility in this extremely difficult and ever-changing environment.
As organizations shift into and out of in-person work, the decision to move one way or the other is made even more challenging by conflicting guidance, mandates that vary across communities, and the unique challenges posed by virtual service delivery. Our hope is that this roundup of guidance from the field will help you make better informed decisions about how or if to return to conducting in-person work. We also hope that you’ll add your feedback and tips in the comments section to share your experiences and help our readers continue to adapt to this challenging time.
US Government Resources
Website of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA)
From overview information to daily tips and updates, OHSA has an enormous amount of information about in-person work in the time of COVID-19. Find the latest guidance on hazard recognition, COVID-19 standards, medical information, and tips on control and prevention, as well as a number of other resources. Some materials are available in Spanish as well as English.
Visit the site here.
Website of OHSA’s Whistleblower Protection Program
This is the place to go to report unsafe working conditions, including unsafe conditions as they relate to COVID-19. You can also find information on the applicable law, COVID-19, how to create an anti-retaliation environment at your organization, and what to expect during a whistleblower investigation.
Visit the site here.
US Department of Labor COVID-19 Webpage
This site hosts a number of practical, nuts-and-bolts resources around workplace safety; wages, hours, and leave; unemployment insurance; and more, all as they relate to COVID-19. You will also find guidance on preventing the coronavirus at work, how to return to work during the pandemic, and how to keep the workplace safe until we can get a vaccine.
Workplace safety information is available in a number of languages, including Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Burmese, Chin, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Croatian, French, French Creole, Hmong, Korean, Kunama, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese.
Visit the site here.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Website
This site is especially useful as a resource for everything PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment. They have general tips on keeping staff safe, as well as information on the status of PPE supplies, what respirators are testing best, and crisis strategies on what to do if PPE runs low–a situation we saw at the beginning of the pandemic. There is also specific advice and strategies around navigating COVID-19 in schools, as well as how to reduce the risk of violence when having to confront clients who refuse to wear a mask or practice social distancing.
Visit the site here.
Center for Disease Control (CDC) Coronavirus Website
Of course, no government resource list would be complete without including all of the information available from the CDC. Here you will find helpful tips about wearing masks and which kinds of masks are most useful; the latest on COVID-19 symptoms and testing; the latest data and trends on cases; guidelines around quarantining and travel; and business-specific guidance and communication resources. Assistance in multiple languages is here as well.
Visit the site here.
Returning to a Pre-Pandemic Workplace Resource Roundup from the Council on Nonprofits
The Council on Nonprofits walks through the factors an organization must weigh before returning to in-person work, and then provides their own list of resources for helping you with that decision. Some of our favorites include:
- Considerations for Community-Based Organizations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which offers specific advice for human and social service-type organizations looking to reduce community spread.
- Going Forward: Best Practices and Considerations for Nonprofit Re-engagement from the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, which guides organizations through guiding principles of engagement as they navigate the challenges of COVID-19.
- Reopening the Workplace: A Preliminary Guide for US Employers from Morgan Lewis LLP, which highlights key considerations around reopening or expanding operations and offers practical implementation steps.
- Take 10: Resume and Thrive Strategies from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, which offers tips on cultivating the mental health and expectations of your workforce to foster a more successful future for everyone.
- Return to Work Resource Library from ThinkHR, which contains a number of videos, tip sheets, and more to help with all of the various challenges a team might encounter as a result of the pandemic.
Find their full list of resources here.
Reopening our Workspaces: A Playbook from Leading Edge
This playbook from the Leading Edge Alliance for Excellence in Jewish Leadership also takes on the considerations around returning to in-person work (or not) from a philosophical point of view. It walks through the many things an organization must weigh, including what impact their decisions will have on diversity, equity, and inclusion; team culture; organization values; and the opportunity that COVID-19 provides us all to “re-dream” what we could be doing.
The playbook contains decision trees to help leadership teams make careful, informed decisions about next steps in the face of the pandemic, as well as a wealth of practical tips and considerations on transitioning back to in-person work. The back half includes day-by-day checklists to help ease that transition.
Find the PDF of the playbook here.
HR Forms and Blog Posts from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
SHRM tackles the thorny HR issues that COVID-19 can surface and that staff may experience as they come into and out of the workplace. Their Coronavirus Resource page hosts back-to-work checklists, screening and notice forms, FAQs, COVID-19 culture quizzes, and more. Their blog posts offer troubleshooting advice on an array of issues such as social distancing, contact-tracing, and payroll. They also have articles that will help keep you up-to-date on what other companies’ HR departments are doing, providing inspiration and insight that might help your own organization.
Visit their Resource Page here. For more from SHRM, check out their helpful list of other reliable resources for workplace issues related to the coronavirus.
COVID-19 Return to Work Playbook from Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente’s all-in-one, clickable playbook offers tips on everything from the details of modifying workplace safety plans and COVID-19 screening to big-picture concerns such as the impact of the virus on the social drivers of health and emotional well-being. It even includes a section on specific guidelines for those who work in public services, which will be of special interest to the COA community.
Visit the playbook here.
What other resources have you seen or used that have been helpful? What re-opening tips and experiences would be helpful to other organizations like yours? Please share them in the comments below! Remember that you can always keep up-to-date on COA’s operational status during the pandemic on our COVID-19 Resources Page here
A big thank you to Whitney Claire Thomey from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center for this guest post!
Certain aspects of the risk management discipline are more compelling than others. It’s easy to see how Enterprise Risk Management harnesses the power of your organization’s strategic initiatives and bolsters the opportunity for your mission to grow and succeed. Having candid conversations about daily risks can become a simple standard practice that helps keep preventable risks in check. And annual reviews of insurance policies are necessary and routine to protect the mission from liabilities.
However, business continuity planning (BCP) often feels like a burden and is an uncomfortable, time-consuming topic to discuss thoroughly. Therefore, it rarely receives the attention that it deserves. Instead of focusing on the negative implications that disruptions cause to your organization and your mission—which often leaves BCP stuck on the backburner—realize how having a clear plan to deal with business interruptions empowers and protects the vital work that your organization does to serve your community and constituents.
Why is BCP important?
The first step in moving your organization’s business continuity plan to the front and center is establishing its value to the organization. So, why is business continuity planning so vital to a mission-driven organization?
Know in advance the critical operations
From a power outage to a pandemic, disruptions never occur on a predictable schedule. Business continuity planning shifts your organization from a defensive state to an offensive one, making sure that nonprofit leaders won’t have to scramble to respond rapidly and improvise when unexpected outages pop up. Being able to pivot quickly can make or break stakeholder trust. A primary function of your business continuity plan is to establish which operations are mission-critical, which services and processes you can do without for a finite period, and which activities can be wound down or halted indefinitely.
When a disruption does occur, response time is crucial to ensure that indispensable services are available, allowing your mission to continue with minimal downside impact. Ideally, business continuity plans are created far in advance, under low-stress conditions, making it possible for cool heads to prevail during the disruption.
One-stop-shop for contingency information
Your business continuity plan collects all kinds of essential, necessary information that make it possible for vital operations to continue in the face of any type of disruption. And it’s likely that your organization already has many of the answers! However, it’s the potency of collation that makes a BCP so powerful. By taking the time to collect and catalog procedures, processes, and points-of-contact, you remove the stress associated with being able to quickly access required resources while also dealing with a crisis in real-time.
The hidden benefit
We have established that contingency planning helps identify in advance the operations and services that are mission-critical to your organization. You’ve seen that it can be leveraged as a one-stop-shop for essential resources and points of contact for your vendors and services. But did you know that there’s an inherent hidden benefit to contingency planning?
You might be surprised to learn that the true benefit of contingency planning lies not in quickly selecting Plan B or Plan C when a disruption occurs. The actual advantage lies in the process. When teams come together to execute planning exercises to brainstorm what disruptions might happen, how they will affect the organization, and what can be done to mitigate the damages they build resilience. Essentially, it flexes the muscles needed to make thinking on your feet a salient and normalized practice. Therefore, it’s not just the final plan but also the time spent discussing and preparing a business continuity plan that helps prepare your nonprofit.
Driven by diversity
If you’ve begun drafting a business continuity plan for your organization and watched it die on the vine or get back-burnered for a more pressing project, the temptation to go it alone is enticing. However alluring it might seem to sit down and hammer out all the details without the organizational drag of a committee, this is a suboptimal approach.
A practical business continuity plan examines the organization with a holistic view. No one department or managerial level has all the answers. BCP cannot be solely focused on information technology any more than it can only consider boots on the ground operations. As organizations move through business impact analysis exercises and begin identifying the crucial areas of service that must not be interrupted, diverse perspectives make all the difference. Establishing a team of individuals representing a variety of functional groups and with differing levels of responsibility will ensure that no stone is left unturned.
It might seem like an insurmountable task to find team members who will want to hunker down and run the marathon of creating a business continuity plan. However, don’t assume that your colleagues won’t be interested! Start by asking for volunteers. It’s human nature to worry, and uncertainty causes stress and anxiety. Being involved in an effort to establish plans for combatting risk has the potential to ease anxiety and make people feel better.
People decide whether to buy-in to things when they have a stake in the investment. Consider how accomplished you feel after completing a big DIY project! This is the concept of the “IKEA Effect.” Even if you only assemble something, you immediately have a sense of ownership and accomplishment. Asking staff members to help shape the plan allows their voices and concerns to be heard and safeguards responsibilities, programs, and services that are important to them.
Break the glass! Don’t keep your BCP a secret. There is a tendency to think of continuity planning, crisis management, and succession planning as organizational secrets. Nothing in your BCP should be embarrassing or contain information staff shouldn’t know. Making the plans public among your internal stakeholders will give them comfort and empowerment to be part of the process.
Get the word out
Knowing that the organization is prepared to weather difficult times can be comforting to staff, stakeholders (your board and funders), and the community you serve. An important piece of the business continuity planning process is sharing your plans with a broad audience. With that in mind, your communications should be targeted accordingly; the message that you send to staff about the plan and decisions for enacting it won’t be the same as what you share with your community funders.
When preparing messaging about your BCP, consider creating some criteria to help you group stakeholders to ensure that the right information gets to each person. You might ask questions such as:
- Does this person play an active role in our contingency plans?
- Will this person be directly, indirectly, or not at all impacted by a disruption to our organization?
- Is this person someone we would call on for temporary support during a disruption?
Insiders – Board, Management, Staff
Some staff and management may already be somewhat aware of your organization’s business continuity plan since they likely participated in the process on some level. However, everyone inside your organization should know that the plan exists, where it exists (whether there’s a hard copy or where the digital files can be found), and the steps for activating it when an event occurs. The final step is critical, as not every incident may warrant a deviation from “business as usual.” As we mentioned before, the plan shouldn’t be a secret; it’s an invaluable asset!
External – Community, Public
The people you serve and those who support your mission will take comfort knowing that the organization has a plan to sustain and continue mission-critical activities when the going gets tough. However, there’s no need to mire them down in the nitty-gritty details of how you will shift to Plan B when the need arises. A simple one-page document with clear contact information is what the public needs to know about your response. Start with messaging you have developed for any recent disruption and tweak it to be easily customized for other situations.
If a mid to wide-spread impact occurs that causes the nonprofit to radically alter services to your community or necessitates a fundraising campaign to help support during the time of need, you’ll need to communicate requirements and changes to this stakeholder group clearly. Consider distributing your message through a variety of sources, making it easily accessible to many people. Consider these possibilities:
- Official press releases
- Banners or tickers on your homepage with important updates
- A dedicated page or collection of pages on your website to aggregate information related to your organization’s response to the disruption and any relevant outside resources
- Special editions of your email newsletter
- Social media posts
Maintaining an open flow of communication with your essential vendors will ensure that expectations and obligations are met even when you can’t do business like you usually would. Involving your vendors in your BCP plans will make sure that services you rely on them for will be available and operating without impact during the disruption. Points of contact may change, or the types of services that your partners can provide could be altered. Therefore, an essential step in a good vendor relationship is to have clear, open communication!
Test the waters
Having a plan isn’t enough. BCPs should be rigorously and regularly tested. As with many risk management tactics, business continuity planning isn’t a linear “one time” event. It’s a cycle that should be refined and revisited repeatedly.
The best-laid plans…
Testing is a powerful step in the BCP cycle. It is during this phase that you breathe life into the pages of your contingency plans. Executing simulations strengthens the plans that you captured by verifying that they are functional and appropriate. Your tests allow you to calmly and systematically identify any weaknesses or gaps, confirm that the objectives are met, and improve upon the drafted systems and processes. Each time your BCP is put through rigors is an opportunity to update and improve as your organization evolves and adapts. Each time trials are conducted, team members can evaluate the response and develop proficiency for the contingency. The real beauty of testing comes in being able to deliver the developed response under ideal, no-stress situations.
You say tomato, I say tomahto
Options for testing your plans are as varied as there are missions and organizations. The variety of testing options and methods means that it’s easy to find a right-sized approach for your organization, team members, and plan. Finding the best fit makes testing a reality for all organizations and eliminates excuses.
You may choose one testing method or several so long as the approach ensures that objectives mentioned above—identifying weaknesses and strengthening processes, to name a few—are met. At a minimum, consider a plan review with team members outside of the initial drafting committee. Receiving feedback from staff who weren’t a part of the planning process will shed light on any areas that were omitted or misunderstood.
Executing more complete simulations through tabletop exercises, walkthrough drills, and full functional recovery tests will provide an added layer of credibility to the plans you’ve drafted. Tabletop exercises could be completed during team meetings for your organization’s functional groups, and simulation testing can a specially scheduled all-hands meeting. The amount of time needed for each of these different methods varies greatly, and therefore gives staff and volunteers an opportunity to thoroughly vet the processes and procedures in your organization’s BCP.
Lather, rinse, repeat
Analysis, evaluation, planning, and testing must occur on a regular schedule to be genuinely useful. Making testing and training routine will ensure that when a disruption occurs, your organization will be prepared to respond as seamlessly as possible.
Testing timelines, just like your plans, must be built to suit. Some factors that will impact how often testing should occur are the size of your organization, availability of personnel (paid staff and volunteers), resources at your disposal, and the maturity level of the business continuity plan itself. What’s right for an organization in your sector might not be right for your organization! Build a testing program that makes sense for you and you increase the likelihood of its success.
Consider various employment milestones as touchpoints for your testing process. Employee and volunteer onboarding are excellent times to communicate and train new stakeholders on the plan. Their unique perspectives may offer a fresh look at methods, so incorporating this feedback will help strengthen organizational resilience. Some organizations find it helpful to set aside time quarterly, annually, and bi-annually to conduct larger-scale run-throughs. Putting these on an organizational calendar will allow departments and staff to plan and secure needed time for these intense practice sessions.
Another way to test and review your plan is to examine the contingency operations any time a significant change is made to a process or system. The plan can be reviewed and tested in smaller, digestible chunks by examining points-of-contact, lists, and procedures when changes are made. If your organization goes through an annual vendor review, take that time to ensure all contact information in your plan is current and correct.
If you have outside vendors that provide mission-critical services, consider including them in your testing protocols. For example, if your nonprofit is a human services agency that contracts with a bus company to transport clients, this outside partner provides a critical service that should be part of your exercises. At a minimum, make sure you know they have a BCP and who your points of contact will be if there’s a disruption.
Don’t let this valuable organizational resource simmer forgotten on the stove. Bring the discussion to a full boil with staff, management, and your board. The powerful resource that results will ensure the protection and safety of your organization’s mission.
What a deeper dive into BCP? Download The Business Continuity Planning issue of Risk Management Essentials, here.
The views, information and opinions expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Accreditation (COA). COA invites guest authors to contribute to the COA blog due to COA’s confidence in their knowledge on the subject matter and their expertise in their chosen field.
Whitney Claire Thomey
Whitney Thomey serves as Project Manager at the Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC). Whitney’s diverse professional experience includes project management duties in local government, legal services, web & content development, human resources, and bicycle mechanics and tour operations. Her background in Anthropology and Ethnology brings a refreshing perspective to examining internal operations and processes. Whitney earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of William and Mary.
Since we began taking huge societal steps to flatten the curve and address our current public health crisis, my inbox has been flooded with emails from what seems like every retailer and restaurant I have ever visited. Are they reaching out to alert me of the latest sales or entice me with a great deal? No. These businesses are reaching out to inform me about their individual response to the spread of COVID-19. These communications have included how they are adhering to state-specific closure orders, enhancing their hygienic practices, supporting the health and safety of staff, and pretty much anything related to changes brought on by measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Social service providing organizations, whether classified as essential or nonessential during this time, are no different in that they must strive to communicate with their stakeholders about how they are addressing COVID-19 as an organization. Across a single social service program, stakeholders can include clients, family members of clients, staff, volunteers, community members, funders, and board members. All of these stakeholders can be impacted in different ways by your COVID-19 response measures. Communicating clearly and specifically to individual groups of stakeholders will show them that your organization is taking the crisis and its role in protecting the community seriously.
COA has put together a list of references to assist your organization in navigating communication with your stakeholders during this time. We’ve organized the information below by:
- Developing a communication strategy
- Staff outreach
- Funding, media, and advocacy outreach
- Guidance on reducing stigma
Our Interpretation blog is meant, first and foremost, to be a resource for the COA community. We are continually evolving its content to meet the needs of our COA network. If you have a resource, article, or tool that you’d like to see posted, we’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us by email at PublicPolicy@coanet.org.
Developing a communication strategy
The abrupt transitions required by COVID-19 has forced for-profit and nonprofits alike to rapidly address a myriad of issues, including communication with their stakeholders. Taking the time to develop a planned communication approach will ensure there is continuity and comprehensive information in your communications and will likely prevent time spent later answering questions. Harvard Business Review has published some helpful tips in developing your communication approach, beginning with the creation of the standing Pandemic Leadership Team. They have also examined the emergency communication responses of companies that have experienced crises previously.
- Harvard Business Review: Communicating Through the Coronavirus Crisis
Whether your agency staff are considered essential or non-essential workers, it’s important to understand that they are impacted both professionally and personally by this crisis. Communications to staff should be sensitive to this by providing clear, concise, and accurate information. In addition, ensure staff are given a supportive and facilitative environment to ask questions and seek clarification. Workers are dealing with a myriad of concerns as a result of COVID-19. They’ll expect clear information regarding everything from individual health insurance coverage to expectations in work-from-home policies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created tools to assist employers in communicating about COVID-19 with their staff. In addition, Forbes has put together a survival guide to caring for staff in a remote environment that can help you craft internal communications during this time. How you communicate with staff during this crisis will dictate the office culture when you return.
- CDC: Prepare your Small Business and Employees for the Effects of COVID-19
- Forbes: Company Survival Guide To Care For Staff During The Coronavirus Pandemic
Funding, media, and advocacy outreach
Addressing the global public health crisis has led to an unprecedented global financial crisis. Legislators at the state and federal level are working hard to determine how best to support the economy while maintaining needed social distancing precautions.
The first federal stimulus package, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, provided some of the financial aid needed by businesses and individuals. It is expected to be followed up with subsequent stimulus bills to continue providing meaningful aid. This means there will be additional opportunities for service providing agencies to advocate for inclusion in future relief packages. It is important that agencies are using any and all tools and connections they have to advocate for their stakeholders and raise awareness of the importance of their specific services in their community.
The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (also known as the Alliance) has created a toolkit for their network to raise awareness about the importance of community-based human services organizations, which become even more vital in times of crisis. To also assist you in raising critical funds, this toolkit includes a national fundraising campaign with graphics and sample posts, as well as media outreach templates. Use these tools to leverage your visibility as part of the national Alliance network and raise awareness for your specific community impact and financial needs.
- Alliance for Strong Families and Communities – COVID-19 Fundraising and Media Outreach Toolkit
Communicating accurate and helpful information is the duty of all organizations addressing COVID-19 in their community. On-site, this can mean having materials available to service recipients. The CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have published a number of free resources for all businesses to use, including fact sheets, guidance, videos, and posters. By using the latest materials published by the CDC, you will ensure the information you are communicating is in accordance with current public health announcements and guidance. In addition, check your state’s public health and human service department’s departments websites to see if materials specific to your state are available to you. Below are links to current communication tools and resources available for use and distribution.
- CDC: Communication Resources
- CDC: Directory of state and territory health agencies
- WHO: Communicating the Risks of COVID-19
Guidance on reducing stigma
Stigma affects the emotional and mental health of those that the stigma is directed against. Stopping stigma is an important part of making communities and community members resilient during public health emergencies. Even if we are not personally involved with the stigmatized groups, it’s important to stay vigilant and address it when issues arise.
We hope you find these resources useful! Check out our other posts on COVID-19—COVID-19 Resources (Extended Version) and Preparing for Response to COVID-19,—for additional information.
What other helpful resources for managing communication during the COVID-19 outbreak have you seen? Share yours in the comments below!
Protect your clients, protect your staff, protect your organization, protect your community.
As the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to have a significant impact on our lives, accredited and in-process organizations have asked us how the standards can help them be ready and respond. In this post we will make a few big-picture recommendations about where to start with your preparations, then point out the key standards that might inform your response.
A few quick recommendations
Before we look at specific standards, we have a few recommendations. First, pull your senior staff and members of your governing body together to think about what your organization needs to do be prepared for and respond to the virus. We strongly recommend that you review the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Administrators and Leaders of Community- and Faith-Based Organizations to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). This resource is the single best resource we have seen to help you prepare your organization for the inevitable arrival of the coronavirus in your community. The guidance provided is specific and clear and is continually updated as new information emerges.
Second, review and update your emergency preparedness plan and other relevant polices and procedures. COA has several standards that address key preparedness and response issues that accredited organizations will already have in place. These fall under the broad standards categories of human resources management, safety and security, and emergency preparedness. More about these below.
With regard to service delivery: Depending on the types of services you provide and the populations you serve, you are very likely to get multiple communications from federal, state, and county oversight entities, as well as others with specific directives and/or guidance that will directly effect your work at the program level. You will want to merge these varying sources of guidance– some of these will be mandatory–into a form that staff can understand and follow.
It is important also to make this information easily accessible. One organization that serves the homeless mentally ill in upstate New York has been receiving updated virus-related directives from multiple sources almost every other day. Every time one of these is received, the CEO merges the new information into updated procedures and then walks around and replaces the old documents, which have been posted all over the facility, with the newest version. Staff are very busy and aren’t always able to stop what they are doing and check their email to see if new updates have been made to the online procedure manual. So put such critical information right in front of them.
Third, communicate clearly and openly with the people you serve, your staff, and the public. The situation in your locale may be changing quickly. Your clients and staff will be looking to you for guidance. Wild Apricot has a very good blog entry titled How to Create a Crisis Communications Plan for Your Nonprofit that you may find useful.
Communication also includes ensuring that staff know who to go to for answers in rapidly evolving situations. Anticipate that some staff who have decision making authority may become sick. Plan for that eventuality, and make sure that staff know who to go to in their place. This is especially important in larger, multiservice organizations who may provide a variety of different services in multiple locations.
Now lets take a look at some of the key COA standards. Currently accredited organizations will have policies and procedures related to these standards already in place. For these organizations, your task it to review these and update them where necessary.
Review and update your emergency response plan and procedures
Pull out your emergency response plan and procedures (ASE 6.01, ASE 6.02, ASE 6.03) and review them with COVID-19 in mind. If you are like many other organizations, you may not have anticipated a fast-moving pandemic when your plan was developed. Emergency response plans and procedures for multiservice organizations and those providing services at different sites may need to include location-specific guidance for each program site.
Things to consider:
- Clarifying who will communicate with authorities and emergency responders at each program location
- Clarifying and testing your lines of communication to staff, your board, clients, and the public
- Clarifying your responsibilities for persons served with mobility challenges and other special needs
- Do you have sufficient supplies at each site? (I.e. masks, gloves, hand-sanitizer, first aid, first aid manuals, cleaning supplies, disinfectant, toilet paper, food, maintenance supplies, batteries, etc.)
- Is emergency contact information up-to-date for all staff and service recipients?
- Will medications be available for people in residential facilities?
- Are copies of emergency response plans and procedures readily available to staff at all program sites?
- How will programs and administrative offices cope with multiple staff absences due to illness?
- If volunteers perform important functions, how will those functions be done if volunteers are prohibited from entering your program sites?
- How will your programs operate if absenteeism spikes?
Review and update safety and security measures
The standards in ASE 5: Safety and Security address the safety and security of your staff and persons served at your program and administrative sites. Review your most recent safety assessment and any measures that were implemented to address identified issues. Then conduct a new COVID-19 assessment if time permits.
Things to consider:
- Will you need to update or create a visitor policy? (I.e., will visitors be prohibited? Who will be allowed to enter your program sites?)
- Will staff and service recipients be permitted to congregate?
- Will face-to-face staff/client interactions be permitted? If so, under what conditions?
- How quickly can you train staff on updated safety procedures and protocols?
- If you run a residential program, are you capable of quarantining residents? If not, what happens with residents who are ordered to be quarantined? How do you promote/enforce social distancing in congregate care facilities?
Review and update human resource management policies
By the time you read this, many of you will already be under restrictions mandating the closure of all non-essential businesses. Although most of our accredited organizations will be not be subject to those restrictions, most have staff that do not necessarily need to be on-site to perform their jobs. Many of you are scrambling to put human resource policies in place to reflect this new reality. The standard HR 3.02 broadly addresses what may go into an HR policies and procedure manual.
Things to consider:
- Which jobs are critical to the organization’s continued operation? Which can be performed remotely, and which cannot?
- How will critical job functions be performed if key staff are absent due to illness or the need to care for family members?
- Do you have a remote working policy? How will supervision be conducted for remote workers?
- Do your sick time and leave policies reflect guidelines and mandates about virus-related sick time? Does your family-leave time? Do they encourage staff to stay home if they feel sick?
- Is your HR department staying abreast of the latest, rapidly-changing federal and state rules about insurance costs? Are you prepared to help staff understand how new rules apply to them?
Again, the CDC has good, comprehensive, practical guidance for employers: Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Review and update technology and information security for remote working
Remote working is as much a technological issue as it is a human resources management issue. The policies and procedures required for RPM 4: Technology and Information Management, and RPM 5: Security of Information should be reviewed and updated if you will be requiring some of your staff to work at home.
Things to consider:
- How will staff securely access work files from off-site?
- How will remote staff communicate with staff who are still working onsite? With each other?
Review and update policies and procedures for technology-based service delivery
The coronavirus has rapidly pushed technology-based service delivery from the periphery to becoming a core intervention modality for many kinds of social and human services. If you are already employing technology-based interventions, take this time to review new rules and guidance coming for the federal government on its use. Then review the standards in PRG 4: Technology-based Service Delivery to ensure that your current practices continue to meet the requirements of the standards.
If you are thinking about employing technology-based interventions for the first time, you need to understand that there are many important factors to consider, including confidentially, security, data collection and transmission, acceptable technologies, licensure, how to work with clients through electronic means, and more. A review of the standards in PRG 4 will give you a frame of reference for what such services look like.
We hope this post helps to bring some of the most important questions into focus for you as you prepare for the coronavirus. The function of accreditation is to build organization’s capacity and resilience through a careful and thorough review of its administration and service-delivery practices. It does this by having you look at what you are doing and how you are doing it, thinking about how you can do things better, and, finally looking ahead so you can be ready for what is coming, both seen and unforeseen.
In light of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, we wanted to highlight some of the resources that we provide on our website, and to provide additional ones, as well. Stay up-to-date on everything happening with COA during the pandemic here.
No matter what role you occupy in the social service delivery continuum, chances are that precautions in the face of COVID-19 have drastically changed the way you work in just a few short weeks. This rapid transition in our lifestyles has led to a deluge of information about how to cope and behave during this time, both personally and professionally. COA has put together a list of references to assist you and your colleagues in navigating all of this news and guidance. We’ve organized the information below by topic:
- General guidance from government agencies
- Guidance for child welfare providers
- Guidance for childcare providers
- Guidance for businesses and employers
- Guidance for healthcare professionals
- Guidance for community organizations
- Guidance on reducing stigma
The Interpretation blog is meant, first and foremost, to be a resource for the COA community. We are continually evolving our blog content to meet the needs of our COA network. If you have a resource, article, or tool that you’d like to see posted, we’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us by email at PublicPolicy@coanet.org.
General guidance from government agencies
It’s important to educate yourself on and follow the guidance of international, national, and local health organizations. The following organizations maintain a collection of resources and information on the spread of COVID-19. COA recommends locating the health agency of your state or territory to find information that is specific to your local community. In addition, make sure that you are signing up for available subscription/distribution lists, where information may be disseminated on an ongoing basis.
- From the World Health Organization (WHO): Coronavirus Disease (COVID-2019) Situation Reports
- From the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC): Coronavirus Disease 2019
- From the Canadian Department of Health: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Outbreak Update
- Directory of state and territory health agencies
Guidance for child welfare providers
The US Children’s Bureau shared this letter with the agencies they oversee the in child welfare system. In addition to this letter, the Children’s Bureau is maintaining this webpage with resources related to COVID-19.
Organizations leading the field in child welfare practice and policy have also created resources to assist agencies in navigating service delivery during this time:
- From the National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease
- From Generations United: COVID-19 Fact Sheet for Grandfamilies and Multigenerational Families
- From Prevent Child Abuse America: Coronavirus Resources & Tips for Parents, Children & Others
- From the National Association of Social Workers: Resources for Social Workers
In addition, The Chronicle of Social Change (now The Imprint) has redirected their reporting to focus on COVID-19 and have posted a number of stories on developments in the child welfare space. We recommend starting with Coronavirus: What Child Welfare Systems Need to Think About.
Guidance for childcare providers
Childcare providers have been deemed essential workers across many regions, even areas with the strictest social distancing regulations in place. This is because we need to ensure childcare is accessible to other essential workers during this time.
Guidance for businesses and employers
There is no doubt that concerns about and restrictions around COVID-19 are impacting how businesses are run. We’ve seen some guidance on how to bear out these changes here:
- From the CDC: Resources for Businesses and Employers
- From the US Department of Labor: COVID-19 Overview
- From the National Council on Nonprofits: The Nonprofit Community Confronts the Coronavirus
Guidance for healthcare professionals
Healthcare facilities are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Find resources to help manage resources and protect yourself and your staff below.
- From the CDC: Resources for Clinics and Healthcare Facilities
- From the CDC: Resources for Healthcare Professionals
Guidance for community organizations
Community-based organizations will be integral to ensuring the infrastructure of community needs are able to be met during this time. Fortunately, there are COVID-19 tools available for organizations that serve vulnerable populations:
- From the CDC: Resources for Community- and Faith-Based Leaders
- From the CDC: Resources to Support People Experiencing Homelessness
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans also has resources specific to each type of services provider they oversee:
- From the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans: COVID-19 Resources
Guidance on reducing stigma
Stigma affects the emotional and mental health of those that the stigma is directed against. Stopping stigma is an important part of making communities and community members resilient during public health emergencies. Even if we are not personally involved with the stigmatized groups, our voice can have an impact.
- From the CDC: Reducing Stigma During a Public Health Crisis
What other helpful resources for managing the COVID-19 outbreak have you seen? Share yours in the comments below.