Today we share difficult news with The Arc New York family. Yesterday, our Westchester Chapter reported the first death due to COVID-19 of an individual served by our organization. While losses are, tragically, not unexpected in our communities and our Chapters during this pandemic, loss that touches us is more difficult to process. Our condolences go out to the family, friends and loved ones of the deceased. I assure you, each of our Chapters continue to follow all state and federal guidance and best practices to reduce transmission of COVID-19. During this pandemic it is our primary responsibility to protect the individuals we serve and our dedicated staff to the absolute best of our abilities.
The State Office continues to work with our Chapters and state leaders to provide support and guidance through this unprecedented challenge. We participate in daily calls with The Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), and are holding teleconference meetings with our Executive Directors three times a week to help us best respond to the needs of our Chapters. During these calls, we are sharing ideas, strategies, resources, and approaches to manage this crisis. The safety and wellbeing of the entire Arc New York Community remains our utmost priority, and we are taking every action possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and identify creative ways to deliver needed supports and services to individuals and families in this evolving environment.
In response to urgent requests from Chapters, the State Office procured a substantial bulk order of critical Personal Protective Equipment, including surgical masks, N95 respirators and gloves. Today we organized the initial distribution of masks. Respirators will be delivered shortly, and a similar process will be implemented to get them to our Chapters. We are hoping to secure gloves in the near future. In addition, our Montgomery Chapter manufactures and distributes hand sanitizer. They have the capacity to meet Chapter need, and are arranging for direct purchase through NYSID. These efforts helped bridge the urgent need for essential supplies. Moving forward, we will assist Chapters in procuring equipment through their local Office of Emergency Management and OPWDD as needed.
In an effort to keep our volunteers and staff apprised of operations during this crisis, an overview of key issues is provided below:
- COVID-19 Reporting: As of Thursday, 33 Chapters have reported 178 individuals supported and 131 employees currently under quarantine or isolation status. There are 35 total confirmed cases of COVID-19, primarily in the Metro Region. We will be collecting this data on a weekly basis and providing updates to the Executive Directors and the Board.
- Billing Guidance: We continue to work with OPWDD to provide clarification on temporary billing practices to our Chapters, and to ensure the sustainability of our services beyond this crisis. Providers have been instructed to continue billing for regular delivery of Day Services under retainer days through the end of the month. OPWDD is working to expand the timeframe providers can bill retainer days, and to include Community Hab and Respite under these provisions. More comprehensive details and billing guidance is provided regularly to Chapters.
- Mergers: Voluntary mergers will undoubtedly be put on hold to address providers in crisis and those entering crisis as a result of the COVID-19 emergency. We have reached out to OPWDD to discuss how we will manage urgent and necessary consolidations that result from this crisis. A meeting is scheduled for March 31.
Advocacy: Following the Board of Governors resolution to launch the March 3for5 campaign, multiple chapters engaged their state representatives through in-person meetings, phone calls, and emails. The online petition advocating for 3% funding increases each year for five years garnered nearly 3,200 signatories and was sent to both legislative bodies and the governor. We continue to be responsive to the changing climate with our advocacy, and to emphasize the need for emergency relief and financial investment in our field during this crisis and beyond. NYDA is holding a Board meeting March 30 to discuss the shift in advocacy given current circumstances.
- 2020 DASNY Bond: We are continuing through the Bond process, however, our TEFRA hearing has been cancelled due to the State shut down. We are currently awaiting guidance from the IRS/Treasury Department on alternatives for TEFRA hearings during this time when an in- person public hearing is not possible.
- Trust Operations: NYSARC Trust Services continues to operate remotely. Call numbers have decreased to approximately half of the normal volume. Essential requests are being met, with wait and turnaround times well within normal averages. A small group of staff is onsite as needed to handle new account requests and mail pickup, to ensure disbursements to beneficiaries can be fulfilled.
- Regional Meetings and State Office Budget: We are not anticipating holding regional meetings at this time. We are planning a web presentation to advise Chapters on the details of the State Office budget. More information will be forthcoming.
- May Board of Governors Meeting: The May BOG Meeting has been postponed as a precautionary measure. We have tentatively rescheduled the meeting for August 11.
- Healthcare and Retirement Projects: The healthcare project is temporarily on hold. In addition, we have postponed the April 2 meeting for the retirement project. We hope to resume meetings, either virtually or in-person during the last week of April.
- Strategic Planning: Strategic Planning is temporarily on hold. We are exploring possibilities for remote discussions. However, we anticipate our Strategic Plan will need to shift thoughtfully in response to the impact of this public health emergency on our Chapters and our field.
This public health crisis is putting great strain on our Chapters and staff, and has caused significant disruption for our individuals and families. In the face of these challenges, I am truly impressed and moved by the dedication of our staff and volunteers to mobilize in full force in response to this emergency. Across The Arc New York, in every capacity, people are putting in long hours, working collaboratively and creatively to solve problems and meet need. My deepest thanks to every one of you for your role in unflaggingly fulfilling our mission to support the people and families we serve.