Charities’ Programs Figure Out How to Keep Helping
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
April 23, 2021

DIOCESE—Cathy Weightman-Moore, director of the Department of Social Services for the Diocese of Rockford, began her service in that position after months of challenges from the coronavirus pandemic.

Coming from many years of service as director of the Long Term Care Ombudsman program of Catholic Charities, she recounts the impact of COVID-19 on that particular program, which provides advocates for residents of nursing homes and certain other health care facilities.

The Ombudsman Program, now headed by Julie Schuppner, continued to work and advocate for residents of long term care facilities in the nine western counties of the diocese even as the virus restrictions shut them out of those facilities completely.

Although they were not allowed inside the buildings, ombudsmen continued to advocate remotely with visits by phone, through windows, and other virtual means for several months. Outdoor visits became possible with social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) as weather permitted.

Ombudsmen continue to wear PPE, Weightman-Moore says, adding, “in all the (Catholic Charities’) programs, that was the priority, making sure when (meeting) in person, we were doing it safely.”

Because of the vaccines, ombudsmen are now “able to get back into a more normal schedule,” she says, noting that ombudsmen were included at the end of the first phase of vaccinations, when facilities’ residents and staff were being vaccinated.

Indoor visitation with residents has since resumed, allowing for the ombudsmen to continue their advocacy in person.

The program also recently provided all residents in the nine county service areas with activity bags that included contact information for the Ombudsman Office, and activities to help with the social isolation resulting from the pandemic visiting restrictions (see story in Feb. 12 issue).

The presence of the ombudsmen in long term care facilities since the pandemic is more important than ever, advocating for the best possible care and quality of life for every resident.

All programs affected

Other Catholic Charities programs have also forged ahead in their ministries, often in creative ways.

For example, the Refugee Resettlement Program continued to work with a smaller-than-usual number of refugees by jumping “a lot of hurdles,” Weightman-Moore says.

Upon arrival, clients are required to complete 14 days of quarantine in apartments or hotels provided by Catholic Charities.

“We transfer them from the bus station to their new home, and our vehicles have shields between them and drivers,” says Janet Biljeskovic, director of the refugee program.

“We are required to do home visits,” she says, describing the appropriate personal protective equipment used for both clients and staff. Clients receive thermometers, masks and cleaning supplies to address pandemic mitigations.

However, Biljeskovic adds, several other in-person services are being provided virtually, including culture orientation, English as a Second Language classes, and preparation for employment, such as job-readiness classes and resume assistance, and also the staff’s efforts to assist clients with following the measures of the companies that are hiring.

Some services such as Social Security registration and visits to the Illinois Department of Public Health do get delayed because of closures, she says, adding that “adaptation” is the word to describe much of the work being done.

Any work that must be done in person is done by appointment at the resettlement office and done with safety protocols in place, she says.

Looking ahead, with the new administration at the White House, numbers of refugees to be resettled are likely to rise and the office is doing what it can in anticipation of that expected increase.

Catholic Charities’ Pregnancy and Parenting Programs needed to adjust quickly, going from all outreach and in-person services to phone, email, and virtual connections. This included not only those helping teens in the Adolescent Outreach Program but anyone throughout the diocese dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.

Services provided weekly in public schools went to services being provided on front porches or at outdoor spaces where safety precautions were observed.

Needed baby items, prenatal, parenting materials and Christmas gifts were dropped off at front doors with staff phoning from their cars and waiting to make sure items were taken inside.

In-person services provided to pregnant and parenting teens in the Boone County high schools have not resumed, except for the work being done at Everest, the alternative high school.

Staff has been meeting in-person with students at Everest throughout this current school year.

Remote collaboration with schools and other agencies has continued.



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