34 Years

by
Jim Roberts, CEO/Founder
October, 28, 2021 -

We launched into the 34th year--2020/2021--of the Family Care Network in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we ended it with the explosion of the “Delta” variant of the virus. The impact of this pandemic on our organization has been, shall we say, extraordinary! Never could I have imagined the pervasive, damaging, and exhaustive experience of living through such an event; and it’s still not over. Similar to individuals who contract the virus, organizations will have mild to severe impact symptoms for undetermined lengths of time; some will not survive. I am not worried about the latter, but it will definitely take some time to rebound and regain full agency health and viability.

 

Where do I begin? The strength of the Family Care Network is in our ability to deliver effective clinical, treatment, and case management interventions to individuals and families suffering from unhealed trauma, and behavioral and housing challenges. Up until Covid, we did this face-to-face, in-person, by building strong relationships. This has been especially difficult since much of what we do is working intensely, one-on-one with children, youth, young adults and families; sometimes meeting with them multiple times per week. Thus, we had to rapidly change our “modus operandi,” transitioning to telemedicine and virtual contacts. Needless to say, this change definitely hampered the effectiveness of our work. Nonetheless, we ended the year with our highest case-success rate on record! How was this possible? The tenacity, creativity and passion of the Family Care Network team.

 

Given the nature of our work, we still needed to have contact with clients, especially in emergency or shelter care situations. FCNI employees were remarkable! They really did put our clients’ best interest before their own. Equipped with full PPE, they did what needed to be done, making placements, providing crisis interventions, and even transporting Covid infected clients for medical attention. Bravo!

 

Another downside to sequestration and isolation, was a significant drop in referrals. The majority of our program funding is driven by contracts and rate-based programs which determine reimbursement based on caseloads, billable service hours, and occupancy. It is necessary for us to maintain a certain minimum staffing level in order to meet our contract expectations and requirements. Again, we had to implement some very creative budgeting, staff assignments and adjustments to maintain fiscal stability and our ability to rapidly respond to client needs. Fortunately, our county partners were amazing to work with, experiencing similar challenges themselves. Also, the state and federal system was able to push out much-needed emergency funding to stabilize the health and human services sector. We ended the year fiscally strong!

 

One of the most heartwarming and encouraging aspects of our Covid crisis was the generosity and exuberant support from the community. We raised more community support during Year 34 than we had in any year prior. And wow--it could not have come at a better or more critical time. Yes, the agency had some fiscal challenges, but nothing compared to those of the families we serve. So many people lost employment, faced housing challenges, experienced food and necessity of life issues; it was heart wrenching. Thanks to our generous community and donors, we were able to make an important difference in these people’s lives! This year we finally made the transition from “transactional” fundraising, to full-on, philanthropic, donor engagement. A big shout out to our Community Resources Development team for pioneering successful new strategies and activities.

 

There has been much in the news lately about the impact of Covid-19 on employees and the very high number of individuals quitting work. This has also occurred at FCNI. Workforce emerged as one of our most serious challenges in Year 34. It has really been a trifecta of variables affecting our agency. First, the emotional exhaustion and stress associated with the pandemic, (i.e., isolation, fear of getting sick or dealing with actually having Covid, childcare stresses, and the limited ability to provide services as usual and see the results). One of the unique characteristics of our agency over the years has been our strong esprit de corps and very close, supportive work environment. Covid seriously damaged this! 

 

The second variable impacting our workforce is financial--our inability to compete with government, schools, and hospitals in regards to salaries. Rightfully so, all of the Covid relief legislation infused a huge amount of fiscal support into the system, except to the nonprofit sector. How do you compete against agencies that can pay 50-100% more per hour, with better benefits, better hours, and far fewer responsibilities?

 

Third--and a variable that completely blindsided me--the political “polarization” and hostility permeating our society. As a behavioral health care provider, we are under strict rules and guidelines about mask wearing, vaccination, social distancing, facility operations, et cetera. The majority of our staff understand this and have been fully compliant. Yet, we have had a small handful of staff unwilling to comply, choosing instead to voluntarily leave the agency.

 

I am so thankful for a core of dedicated, mission-minded, and incredibly hard-working employees who appreciate the positive benefits we bring to the community and are committed to the successful fulfillment of the Family Care Network’s Mission. We continue to get new applicants, though less than we need, and be creative in our recruitment and retention strategies.

 

One of the Strategic Objectives we have maintained for some time now is to implement major changes in our Continuous Quality Improvement process through the development of a very sophisticated Data Dashboard. This year, we made huge progress in this regard. Our IT Director, programmer, select staff, and an amazing outside consultant have created a “state-of-the-art” Data Dashboard, far exceeding my expectations. We were also able to integrate some Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning functions to help us really dig deeply into our data, and produce very high level analytics. This has been a very exciting adventure; one which will help further set FCNI apart as an innovator in our industry.

 

In the midst of all this “Covid Craziness,” we actually completed another full Accreditation by the Joint Commission, and with great accolade for maintaining high standards and a high level of compliance. Again, this is attributable to our Quality Compliance Manager, and a cohort of agency staff who work diligently day-in and day-out to conform to our accreditation standards.

 

One of the most remarkable impacts of this pandemic on our agency has been our need to manage and rapidly respond to an ever-changing--sometimes daily--body of requirements, regulations, and mandated operational protocols related to Covid-19, including the need to continually update and inform our staff. It has been head turning and overwhelming. Fortunately, we have one of the best, most dutiful and hard-working HR Directors any agency could have, as well as an amazing COO. Because of these requirements, we have forged new, frequent virtual communication channels, intensified the work of our Executive Team, and elicited and received outstanding cooperation and support from our Managers and Supervisors. At the end of the day, FCNI exemplified what teamwork infused with innovation and creativity can accomplish!

 

In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, some major initiatives have emerged at the state level that we see as excellent opportunities to expand our services here on the Central Coast. The CalAim reform initiative, Community School Partnership Act, and substantially expanded school-based mental health services are some of these opportunities. More on this to come.

 

As any healthy agency, or individual for that matter, would do, we have turned this Covid challenge into a learning experience. We have made an exerted effort to “mine the crisis,” to see what we have learned, what we can do better moving forward, and how we can continue to build on our successes of this past year. As an eternal optimist, I am very confident that the Family Care Network will not only continue to serve at the highest level of impact and benefit for our clients, but we will open up new doors for enhancing the wellbeing of children and families in partnership with our community!