KINGSTON – As the region starts to see the light at the end of the tunnel with COVID, success stories are beginning to surface about the organizations and businesses that weathered the past year’s crisis successfully.
Gateway Hudson Valley, a non-profit that provides a myriad of services to mentally and physically disabled individuals, persons with substance abuse issues, psychiatric issues, and elderly folks in Ulster County was one of those who were able to weather the storm successfully.
President and CEO Stephanie Turco spoke Wednesday about how the organization was able to act efficiently and some of the creative measures they took to continue providing services to the individuals they serve.
Gateway serves thousands of people and employs anywhere from 160-200 people at a time. Throughout the pandemic, till now, they have not had to have any employment cuts, even while enduring 20 percent to now five percent holds on funding from their state sources.
The entire year of 2020, no one from their residential programs contracted COVID.
Turco credited this to being proactive early in acquiring PPE, utilizing remote conferencing and telehealth, utilizing their many janitorial contracts to acquire misting machines to keep their facilities sanitized and the dedication of staff who would sew masks for the rest of the staff when there was a shortage.
Turco said their employ was relentless in finding solutions early on.
“Our staff, our executive management, the team that I have and our staff we really just read everything that we could read. We talked about it every single day and made plans for how we were going to continue to serve people because that was the most important thing for us was how were we going to make sure that we take care of the people that we are responsible for,” said Turco.
Gateway also continued serving food to thousands of Ulster County’s elderly at high risk for COVID, or who had become food insecure and consolidated their staffing, as well as utilized food ordering, to eliminate as much person-to-person contact for both their staff and those they were serving.
Turco maintained that their organization didn’t do anything extraordinarily different than others, but it was their teamwork, passion, and dedication to a common goal that ultimately created the scenario for success during an uncertain time.
“I think having the team contribute and soliciting as much information as we could from each other and from other colleagues in the community and from Albany and OMH (Office of Mental Health) and OPWDD (Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities) and never stop asking questions and never stop thinking of alternatives and always keeping the mission to serve in mind, that was what saved us,” said Turco.
Going towards the future, Gateway is looking at what benefits were gained from their pandemic approaches. One of these is their PROS (Personal Recovery Oriented Services) going remote. That program is a county program for individuals with psychiatric disabilities.
“That program went telehealth in March of last year primarily. We’re still seeing people for psychiatry and for psychotherapy and for nursing individually, but most of our groups went on to Zoom,” said Turco. “I think it’s worked for a lot of people and I could see if the state allows programs and I hope they do, to continue with these hybrid models as we come out of things because it allows us to serve people in a wider geographic area,” she said.
It is ultimately up to the state Office of Mental Health and Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities whether, or not, these changes can be sustained, but they are showing a real benefit for both staff and served individual flexibility.
Gateway provided survey data to NYDA for 40 plus weeks on how programs were operating with pandemic practices and hope the data gathered from their organization and others can contribute to those beneficial practices sustained use.