3/28/2020 7:24:00 AM Oneida County social services committee hears COVID-19 reports
Kayla Houp of the Lakeland Times
The Oneida County board's social services committee met Tuesday to hear updates on the veterans services and social services departments' response to the COVID-19 health crisis.
Committee chair Alan VanRaalte led the meeting in person, while committee members Jim Winkler, Steven Schreier, and Bill Liebert participated via phone.
Oneida County veteran service officer Tammy Javenkoski advised that a sign has been placed on the office door stating only critical services were available.
"We're doing all appointments by phone," Javenkoski said. "... Our mail bill is going to go up more, because we've been mailing things to people. And just to try and keep them at home, we're also sending them return envelopes."
The board also heard from social services director Mary Rideout on the social services COVID-19 policy and procedure update.
Rideout stated her department has altered some of its alternate work schedule and paid time off policies to allow for a reduction of in-office staff which includes the ability to work from home and work in shifts.
The alterations allow the department to have a 50% reduction of staff in-office.
"So we have increased the amount of staff working remotely, we are also doing a lot of shift work," Rideout said, noting that employees are coming in on the weekends, coming in early, or even leaving later.
"We are an office of 40-plus people, and so I felt that it was, with the current conditions, that it was essential that we at least get down to the 50%," she said.
With the recent "Safer at Home" order from Gov. Tony Evers, Rideout stated that number could be reduced even further.
Rideout mentioned county chair Dave Hintz had approved $6,000 for the department to purchase four additional laptops which would allow more staff to work remotely.
"We are able to communicate with our remote staff by phone and email. They have full access, secure access, the way that ITS has us set up with out laptops," Rideout said, referring to information technology services. "So that's what we're doing as far as staffing."
While Rideout stated she believed the majority of social services would be considered essential under the "Safer at Home" order, some services could still be offered remotely when possible.
"Is this whole thing reflective of the actual current situation or did we always have this plan or contingency in place for this?" Schreier asked.
Rideout replied it was part of the department's "continuing operations" plan where the department identified "who we would absolutely need in the event of a crisis" as well as what equipment would be needed.
"We have been moving toward laptops for all staff, primarily social workers," Rideout said. "It's been part of that continuing operation plan to make sure people could work remotely."
"With regard to the laptops, are any of those ones that were already scheduled at some point in the future for your IT upgrade?" VanRaalte asked. "So, we're not spending more money, we're just spending it earlier."
Rideout clarified the department would've budgeted for the four additional laptops in 2021.
In regard to client contacts mandated by statute or federal law, Rideout said the department would continue to make the necessary in-person contacts for adult and child safety concerns, and would utilize technology for other contacts.
"When there's child safety concerns, we're going to do everything we can to have those face-to-face contacts if they're safe for our workers and safe for our clients," Rideout said. "But we're also looking at technology to be able to do that."
While the state had never allowed a face-to-face contact to be done via Skype or FaceTime, Rideout said exceptions are being made at this time.
When social services does conduct in-person client contacts, Rideout said social workers were asking questions about whether anyone in the home was sick or were traveling to areas with COVID-19 before entering the home.
"We want to make sure that we're protecting our clients when we go to see them as well, so when we go to see the elderly, we'll be wearing face masks," Rideout said.
The committee also discussed the possible merger of the Aging and Disability Resource Center with the social services department.
While the weekly in-person meetings on the merger have halted due to the COVID-19 crisis, the committee was provided a document outlining where the county tax levy was for the ADRC and Social Services budgets and combined the two to show what a possible merger could look like.
The county board has made no decisions yet on a merger of the two departments.
Kayla Houp may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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