Coping with COVID-19: How New Community is Helping During the Pandemic

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Coping with COVID-19: How New Community is Helping During the Pandemic

NCC’s Resident Services Department has continued providing food to those in need throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. From left to right: Manor Senior Resident Services Coordinators Erika Furcal and Guadalupe Cepeda and Home Friend Program Coordinator/Food Pantry Representative Flavia Pinheiro. Photo courtesy of Resident Services.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of life for people and businesses around the world. New Community has had to make adjustments to its operations, but it has continued to provide vital services during the pandemic, keeping in mind and taking steps to ensure the safety of employees, residents and clients.

“NCC has risen to the challenges brought on by COVID-19. Even during a global pandemic, our dedicated staff members have embodied our mission, finding ways to safely provide essential services to our residents and clients in the community at a time of great need,” said NCC CEO Richard Rohrman. “I want to especially thank our teams at Extended Care, Security and Housing who have been continuously working to help our seniors and disabled residents through this crisis. As we move forward in a new normal, we will continue to make adjustments to our operations as necessary, always keeping in mind the health and safety of our employees and those we serve.”

Members of NCC’s Board of Directors have remained involved during the pandemic.

“As a Board, and working very closely with the Management Team at New Community, we have witnessed the enormous toll COVID-19 is taking on our residents, employees and the community at large,” said NCC Board Chairman Dr. A. Zachary Yamba. “With dedication and compassion, the leadership team at NCC rose to the occasion to minimize and contain the spread of this deadly virus and to ensure that lives were saved and livelihood was protected.”

Before action was taken by government officials in New Jersey, NCC leadership created a task force made up of department directors and senior leaders to discuss and create plans for each department’s response to the virus. When it became clear that COVID-19 was going to impact the state and NCC’s footprint, those plans were put into practice.

“Our early action made an impact,” said NCC Chief Operating Officer Fred Hunter.

Hand sanitizer stations were installed in all NCC buildings and increased cleaning protocols were put in place in early March. NCC’s Environmental Services Department has maintained cleaning and sanitizing protocols throughout the pandemic, at times with fewer staff members.

Across the board, NCC has leveraged remote activity. Meetings moved to remote means to limit in-person contact. Many employees who were able to perform their duties off-site did so at least part of the time.

Each of NCC’s departments has made changes in response to the pandemic. The following provides highlights from these different areas.

Extended Care Administrator Veronica Onwunaka, right, checks the temperature of an employee before she starts her shift. Screenings were enacted at the skilled nursing facility to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Fred Hunter.

New Community Extended Care Facility
To help reduce the risk of infection to residents and staff members of the skilled nursing facility, Extended Care has taken several steps. Visitation was suspended and the building was closed to the public in March. Screening of staff members was put in place, including temperature checks before the start of every shift. Staff members were provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) to use when caring for residents. Plexiglass was installed at the reception desk to serve as a barrier. A specialized environmental professional group that used EPA approved disinfectants sterilized the entire building, from the basement to the fourth floor. Each floor was cleared for several hours during the disinfecting. In addition to the deep cleaning, staff members continually clean the facility with government-approved cleaning products.

All residents and staff members were tested for COVID-19. Residents who tested positive were isolated and staff members found to have the virus were removed from duty and not permitted to return until they received a doctor’s clearance. Retesting was completed in late May and isolation protocols remain in place for those with positive test results.

As an additional precaution, the facility designated a washing machine to launder linens and personal clothing for residents who were identified as COVID-19 positive.

Hunter said Extended Care staff members deserve recognition for their commitment to the residents.

“We have a dedicated group of folks working at Extended Care in all areas, from laundry to nurses to security,” he said. “They’re doing a fine job. I’m proud of them.”

Extended Care received a donation of face shields and ear savers from SOMA NJ 3D Printers Alliance in May, which staff members put to good use when attending to residents’ needs.

Plexiglass has been installed at Security stations, including the one at Harmony House. Photo courtesy of John Wade.

Members of the NCC Security Department have continued to provide services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the safety of staff and residents. They wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and take other preventative measures to keep them as safe as possible. In addition to their traditional duties, Security personnel make sure everyone at their post wears the proper PPE and adheres to social distancing guidelines. For increased safety, Security staff members have minimal direct interaction with the general resident population.

Plexiglass has been installed at Security stations throughout the network to protect staff members from other individuals’ coughs and sneezes.

Members of Security have also assisted with the execution of COVID-19 testing at NCC senior buildings.

Environmental Services
NCC’s Environmental Services Department has managed emergency work orders for NCC residences and cleaned common areas and the grounds throughout the pandemic. Personnel installed hand sanitizer stations in all NCC buildings and plexiglass coverings at security posts. The department was also tasked with handling procurement of PPE for all departments except Extended Care.

Associates Resident Services Coordinator Desiree Crespo hands a hot meal to a resident. Photo courtesy of Resident Services.

Resident Services
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Resident Services has continued to provide support for NCC residents. Resident Services Coordinators conduct phone wellness checks on residents twice per day. The calls range from five to 40 minutes and provide residents with a listening ear. Coordinators have managed more than 1,500 cases per month during the pandemic. In addition to the wellness checks, they provide rental payment and rental assistance reminders; assist tenants filing for unemployment; provide families with baby food, diapers and clothing as needed; help residents complete their census forms by phone or internet; assist residents who don’t normally file tax returns apply for stimulus checks; make routine hospital calls after admission to keep track of residents’ health and wellbeing; call in necessary prescriptions; teleconference with residents to assist with doctor calls after residents experience symptoms possibly related to COVID-19; and share resources related to COVID-19 with residents, including referrals to mental health services when needed.

The Emergency Food Pantry has remained in operation throughout the pandemic, providing food to the community on its regular schedule, opening the first business day after the 15th of each month. Food is also provided to the community on the first Tuesday of each month. During the pandemic, the Emergency Food Pantry has served more than 500 clients per month including seniors, adults and children. From March to April, the food pantry fed 1,069 clients. The number of individuals in need of assistance is expected to increase with a high unemployment rate.

Resident Services Coordinators have facilitated the distribution of meals to residents in NCC’s senior buildings, which have been provided by the City of Newark. They also ensure residents receive food commodities donated by food banks and others.

“The meals are sorted and delivered daily by the Resident Services Coordinators. They do a fantastic and tireless job in assuring that all who want a meal will receive a meal,” said Hector Torres, Director of Property Management. “Our Resident Services Coordinators have been true heroes from day one of this pandemic. I applaud them and their relentless efforts to make sure our residents are at least provided a meal or food during this crisis.”

For more photos of Resident Services in action, click here.

Property Management
NCC residents were informed about COVID-19 through flyers, building intercoms, website updates and follow-up telephone calls. Residents were given ways to reach out to their Property Managers and Management offices to provide for minimal physical contact and when Newark instituted the shelter-in-place order, all physical contact was eliminated. To ensure residents have the most up to date information, the Property Management Department provides flyers and posters and makes follow-up phone calls with updates about changing protocols and food distributions.

Property Managers continue to be at buildings daily and address the recertification process for residents as best as possible with physical limitations. The residents have been cooperative and understanding during the pandemic.

COVID-19 testing for residents and staff members at NCC senior buildings began in May. services were coordinated with Sunrise Diagnostics and the City of Newark. All residents and staff members in the buildings receiving testing were given the opportunity to be tested in the Community Room. A doctor was on site for testing. Social distancing guidelines were adhered to for the testing and residents waited outside for their turn to be swabbed. Anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 had their primary care physician notified.

“There are many people to thank and give appreciation to as we move forward to assure that NCC is doing all it can to make sure our residents are looked out for,” Torres said. “The true meaning of community is reflected during times such as we are experiencing and our employees are true warriors and heroes each and every day.”

Family Resource Success Center
The Family Resource Success Center has remained available throughout the pandemic to ensure that vulnerable, low-income families and individuals can remain in their homes and have access to resources and benefits during and beyond the crisis. The center offers guidance and support to ensure residents are connected to critical local and national resources, and social outlets to maintain their economic and mental health to lessen the impact of the pandemic.

“As the hub for NCC services, we are connecting residents to a range of strategies and activities. We will continue to support communities in an effort to address needs during this public health crisis, and respond to future needs,” said Family Resource Center Director Joann Williams-Swiney. “We hope to leave our communities better prepared and secured for future emergencies and crises.”

The Family Resource Success Center connects individuals to the myriad of services provided by NCC, as well as outside entities. During the pandemic, the center has referred clients and provided the following services: online training programs available through New Community Career & Technical Institute (NCCTI); senior services; health care services for seniors, the disabled and uninsured; housing resources through NCC and specialized housing for those with HIV, the homeless and veterans; counseling services; benefits screenings; energy assistance; prescription assistance; free tax prep, which continues since the tax deadline was pushed back to July 15; detox placements; food referrals; rental assistance programs; financial literacy programs; furniture referrals; and legal services.

Harmony House
Harmony House, NCC’s transitional housing facility for homeless families, has been open for regular services throughout the pandemic and is accepting new referrals. The staff has provided 854 case management hours in eight weeks. Food is also distributed to families through collaboration with the City of Newark and other supporters. Family counseling is available through Family Service Bureau for all families.

Family Service Bureau (FSB)
Family Service Bureau (FSB), a licensed outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment center, has continued to operate during the pandemic with remote services. FSB provided 1,200 sessions in eight weeks with a combination of telehealth and telemedicine.

In addition to servicing community clients, the facility has worked with NCC employees as part of the Employee Assistance Program to provide free support during these difficult times. Mental health and substance abuse services are also available to senior residents and Harmony House families.

In addition, FSB is providing free COVID-19 crisis counseling services to families, individuals and youth living in Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic counties. Services are available through the Disaster and Terrorism Branch of the State of New Jersey and are offered Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 973-272-7488 or email to utilize the services.

New Community Career & Technical Institute (NCCTI)
NCCTI was forced to suspend all on-campus classes because of the pandemic. To adjust to the new normal, the school made preparations and began offering three online programs. Clinical Medical Assistant and Patient Care Technician programs began online May 11 and the online Automotive Technician program starts June 8.

“We were able to adjust and offer online learning to ensure we are continuing the pipeline of skilled and trained workers in health care and automotive,” said NCCTI Director Rodney Brutton. “We were able to change our delivery in a matter of weeks and meet our enrollment goals. And the quality has not been jeopardized or diluted.”

Brutton is thankful for NCC’s IT and Finance departments for their assistance making sure online students had the tools and resources necessary to participate in the programs. He also said the Communications Department was instrumental in promoting the online programs, which helped recruit the desired number of students.

The Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) continued its operations during the pandemic, offering financial coaching, job readiness and retention support remotely. The FOC also continues to conduct financial literacy workshops remotely and shares information about topics and online events.

Work for the Newark 2020 initiative also continues during the pandemic. As a community hub, NCCTI personnel participate in weekly conference calls with representatives from other organizations involved in Newark 2020, including Ironbound Community Corporation, Urban League of Essex County, La Casa de Don Pedro and the Newark Alliance, which heads the initiative.

“We are still engaging Newark 2020 clients to assess their education level and work experience and connect them to current job openings within the Newark 2020 employer network,” Brutton said.

Personnel also took an active role in recruiting job seekers for a new virtual career coaching series called Level Up Now!, which is an initiative through the City of Newark and Ironbound Community Corporation for Newark 2020. Sessions began April 29 and continue weekly through June 17. The series includes virtual and essential job opportunities, employer partner facilitators, training on the virtual workplace, remote task delivery, the building power of digital profiles, resume enhancement, virtual interviewing techniques and connections to career coaches.

Adult Learning Center
In-person classes had to be suspended in March because of the pandemic, but the Adult Learning Center moved its classes online April 20 for its last session of the fiscal year. All services are being offered through Google Classroom and Google Meets at their regularly scheduled times. Students were able to pick up their books from the center, which now has office hours of Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

While Adult Learning Center Director Cristhian Barcelos said the transition was a challenge since it had to be done quickly and using technology staff members weren’t necessarily familiar with, he said it has been successful and has enabled students to continue their education.

“Our instructors and students have demonstrated an immense capacity to adapt and overcome the challenges that we are facing, especially in the middle of a pandemic and financial crisis,” Barcelos said. “We do not know what awaits for us in the future, but we are working very hard to be prepared for anything that comes our way.”

Early Learning Centers
Both Community Hills Early Learning Center (CHELC) and Harmony House Early Learning Center (HHELC) closed their doors in March because of the pandemic. But just because students and teachers couldn’t come together in the classroom doesn’t mean the learning stopped. Staff members at both centers have continued communicating with families and teaching children through virtual means like Zoom and ClassDojo. Parents share photos and video clips of their children engaged in learning activities. NCC personnel have also reached out to families to provide support through email, WhatsApp and text messages.

HHELC students participated in the Week of the Young Child remotely this year. Throughout the week, they made their own music objects; explored food and cooking; built structures using blocks, wood or legos; and created artwork.

CHELC staff members participate in weekly conference calls to stay updated and discuss how they are dealing with their new normal. Spanish speaking teachers provide remote learning in Spanish for families who primarily speak that language.

Newark Public Schools provided ShopRite gift cards for families at both CHELC and HHELC to help them during this difficult time. Center directors arranged for a family representative to pick up the gift cards.

For photos of CHELC and HHELC families, click here.

Youth Services
Youth Services has provided remote learning to children in the Family Friendly program and the after-school program at the NCC Neighborhood Center. In addition, mentoring services through the Teen Empowerment Network (T.E.N.) program is continuing remotely and assisting high school seniors in preparing for college.

Supportive Assistance to Individuals and Families (SAIF)
Supportive Assistance to Individuals and Families (SAIF) has been operating remotely off-site. Staff members have provided 639 outreach efforts with a total of 240 case management hours.

New Community Federal Credit Union
The New Community Federal Credit Union has remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hours changed slightly and are currently Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.