When the pandemic hit in March, Waypoint, a social service organization that serves people throughout New Hampshire, sent their 300 employees home. But much of their work with at-risk populations was essential — there were still seniors in need of home care, new young mothers in need of visits and homeless youth that needed food and clothing.
So, Waypoint needed to find a way to deliver services safely, for both staff and clients.
“We realized quickly we could not completely stop service,” said Borja Alvarez de Toledo
president and CEO of Waypoint.
They applied for federal funding to help pay employees, and bought them laptops so that they could work from home. They realized that many of their clients didn’t have access to the technology they needed, so they wrote grants in order to provide data and devices to keep in touch with the most at-risk clients — especially homeless youth.
But six months into the pandemic, Alvarez de Toledo is still concerned that at-risk New Hampshire residents might have the worst in front of them.
“There was an enormous influx in federal support,” he said. “Now that is drying up and we’re beginning to see the issues with food insecurity and issues of crises in the family.
Families who were already at risk — like those receiving parental education and other services — now have additional stressors like working from home, navigating unemployment and remote schooling. That can lead to increased risk for domestic violence or neglect.
“The dynamics and tensions are really exacerbated,” Alvarez de Toledo said.
At the same time, with in-person learning limited, there were fewer people reporting suspected abuse or neglect. Waypoint employees who work in child welfare recognized that they were getting limited information with video-meetings, so they’ve begun trying to meet with families in person. Even an outdoor visit at a local park provides more info than a video check-in, for example.
While in person services are critical, Alvarez de Toledo said that remote services have allowed some people to take advantage of programs that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to utilize. A single mom with three kids wouldn’t likely attend an evening meeting in person, but she might be able to do so via zoom, he said.
“Telehealth is something we have been fighting and fighting for, but the crisis needed to come [for policymakers] to realize that it’s effective,” Alvarez de Toledo said. “I hope it’s here to say.
In the future, Waypoint will use a hybrid approach to reach clients in the way that’s most effective, he said. Even conducting a portion of visits online saves on staff travel time and expenses.
“That allows us to increase our presence and service for families,” Alvarez de Toledo said
At the same time, the organization is considering how it can make do with less of a brick-and-mortar presence. In the past, expanding in the state has meant focusing on new office space, but Waypoint employees have learned that they can work effectively from home and still serve clients, so new office space might not be needed, Alvarez de Toledo said.
Waypoint works for the state through contracts, but also has an advocacy branch that pushes for changes on the policy level. That puts the organization in a unique position, especially during the pandemic.
“It’s a fine line and a tight road to figure out how to receive contracts from the state and advocate for changes in how services are delivered,” Alvarez de Toledo said.
With the state facing a likely budget deficit, he’s mindful of the way that social services could be impacted, but hopeful that the state will maintain its commitment to child welfare.
“We’re hearing that kids’ services will be spared for cuts,” he said. Other programs — like those that serve elderly people or the housing insecure — could still be at risk.
“Any cuts that are done at state level are going to be really devastating,” he said.
That’s why Waypoint is gearing up to deal with the consequences of the pandemic long-term, Alvarez de Toledo said. In New Hampshire, the inequities between different groups is acute, and the pandemic has just made that more obvious, he said.
Waypoint has received many private and corporate donations to support its work in the past six months, but Alvarez de Toledo worries about maintaining that funding as the economic impact of the pandemic drags on.
“My fear is what’s going to happen in three months. How can we make sure that we continue to provide the support, knowing at the same time there’s a decrease in [state] revenue and an increase in unemployment,” he said. “From the [virus], the worst is hopefully over, but I think in terms of the suffering of families we’re not out of this, and it can get worse in the future.
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.