Mind and Body

Acting locally

Local nonprofit pivots to continue its work in the age of coronavirus

Photo by Richard Asinof

A local nonprofit engages its staff in how to change its approach to work in a time of pandemic, reflecting a need to stay safe and stay engaged.

By Peter Simon
Posted 3/16/20
A local nonprofit figures out how to pivot and continue its work while keeping its workers and community safe in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.
How many businesses in Rhode Island have engaged with their employees to develop a plan about how to change work routines in coping with the coronavirus pandemic? How does the messaging need to change about social distancing in Rhode Island to be more effective? As we enter the brave new world of living in a time of pandemic, what kinds of “listening” skills need to changed and reinforced?
Changing patterns of bad behavior is never an easy process, particularly in world where we all have become accustomed to immediate gratification, instant access, and convenience. In the Disney cartoon, “Bambi,” there is a bit a dialogue where Owl dispenses some wisdom to Bambi and Thumper about what happens when you become “twitterpated,” a rite associated with the rebirth of wonder and romance in spring.
In a culture where we have all become “twitterpated” in the way we communicate with each other, taking more time and care with our conversations, learning how to listen in 10 different ways, may go a long way in enabling people to feel heard and included.

PROVIDENCE – Retired public health physicians really should stay away from social media.

Unfortunately, I am married to a social media guru who felt it her mission to train me how to use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

For the past month or so, you may have seen some of my posts and receive articles regarding COVID-19. I hope I have been helpful to some.

On Wednesday, I got a chance to participate on a 400-person telephone conference call held by the R.I. Department of Health, where I worked for 35 years as a medical epidemiologist.

I listened to a summary of the COVID-19 outbreak, information about plans for distributing personal protective equipment, and lastly to questions from physicians, school nurses, nursing home administrators and others.

When I heard a lull in questioning, I un-muted my phone, said my name, and asked how the Department knew that there was no community spread of the virus.

Not an easy question to ask – or to answer. I mentioned that my concern was piqued by the decision by the City Council in Newport to hold a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Later that day, the Governor announced that she wanted Newport to cancel. The rest you all know [the Council reconsidered and the parade was canceled].

Taking good care
The following day, I got a call from the CEO of a small nonprofit organization in Providence, the Childhood Lead Action Project [CLAP]. Laura Brion had lots of questions and ideas swirling in her head about the best way for her to keep her organization moving ahead while protecting the health and well being of her staff, their families and the communities they work with.

We talked for about 30 minutes. I told her to call me anytime; she called again on Friday to see if I would take part in a video conference call with her organization to discuss options for how to get through the next few weeks.

At noon last Friday, I joined Laura and four of her staff on Google Hangout. We had some technical problems at the beginning with one or two people, due to problems with their computers. It took 20 minutes to figure out a way for all of us to hear or see what was being said.

Laura asked for a volunteer to take notes and keep time. There was an agenda in the email inviting me to join, along with two sets of recommendations, one prepared by the R.I. Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the other from Washington State and Seattle’s King County Health Department.

Everyone got a chance to “check in,” sharing what was going on in their lives, how they were coping in balancing work with family. After about 45 minutes, Laura asked to extend the meeting for another 15 minutes, as the initial hour scheduled for had been exhausted.

All agreed. I was asked to talk about the virus, what we know about risk and prevention of transmission, and the key messages about prevention of exposure.

Our Governor had just announced the shift from containment to mitigation, so I spoke for a while about social distancing and what all of us need to do to slow the transmission of the virus in order to avoid overwhelming our hospitals.

Lastly, the group created a plan for their work to be moved out of their office to home, with a system for them to plan time in the office using a common Google calendar to avoid multiple staff inside their small space at the same time. All work in the community would be handled using video conferencing.

Checklists would be prepared for wiping down surfaces before and after spending time in their office. We all signed off after a total of about 90 minutes “together.”


Dr. Peter Simon, a retired pediatrician and medical epidemiologist, is a frequent contributor to ConvergenceRI.


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