• 63°

Community leaders wage war against coronavirus via phone

Our community has never faced anything like this in our time.

Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner made that point during a teleconference call Tuesday morning about the local coronavirus response involving about 30 service providers in the city and county.

Ordinarily, he said, in a time of crisis, those responsible for coordinating efforts to deal with it come together in a situation room setting and work together.

“We can’t do that with this,” he said because of the necessity of social isolation. “There are a lot of challenges here, and all we can do is continue to move forward.”

The computer and telephone conference call through Zoom, moderated by Jen Algire of The Greater Clark Foundation, was one in a series of COVID-19 community “wrap-around” service status calls encouraged by the state and initiated last week by the Clark County Health Department. There will be another one Thursday at 9 a.m.

Participants talked about a wide range of concerns, including food provision, an expected increase in the homeless population as a result of job losses and evictions, utility cut-offs and the need for individual or small group child care when day care centers close.

One of the newer concerns is the effect social isolation and fears about the potentially-deadly virus will have on mental health and the need to be able to provide counseling via smartphone or computer.

Health care

Patricia Stewart-Hopkins, regional director of program development for Mountain Comprehensive Care Center, talked about the concerns of funding that kind of care.

“We have to have an expansion of telehealth services through Medicaid,” she said for those services provided by peer support specialists, community support associates and mental health counselors and others that are not now Medicaid-billable. Unless that happens, she said, people with substance abuse problems, mental health conditions, the homeless and people at risk of suicide will be at even greater risk.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services has allowed case management by teleconferencing to be covered by Medicaid, and that’s a huge win, she said.

“We expect case managers are going to be in high demand,” she said.

She urged local service providers who might be able to influence Gov. Andy Beshear or cabinet leaders to push for the other services to also be covered.

The telehealth services would be provided through a conferencing program such as Zoom or Skype that can be HIPPA-protected, she said.

Nutrition

Providing food to people is another major concern right now. Bridgette Mann with Clark County Public Schools said the school lunch program’s first day of drive-through service Monday provided more than 800 meals to more than 400 schoolchildren who still need to be fed, even though they’re learning from home.

Debbie Fatkin, executive director of Clark County Community Services, whose agency serves about 1,300 to 1,400 food boxes a month and could provide more, brought up the issue of people applying at multiple places that provide free food.

“You don’t need to sign up everywhere, because somebody is going to be shorted,” she said.

Some churches, such as First Baptist on Lexington Avenue, are also providing food to go, but churches that provide meals inside their buildings, such as Ark of Mercy Church of God, have stopped.

Rent and utilities

Terry Davidson, executive director of the Clark County Homeless Coalition, raised the concern about people not being able to come up with an average $650 to $700 rent payment if they are unable to work.

“We expect to see a huge spike in homelessness,” she said.

Stephen Berry, the GIS coordinator for the city and county, said he would be willing to reach out to utility companies about temporarily suspending cut-offs and reinstating service for nonpayment of services. Winchester Municipal Utilities announced Tuesday that it had decided to enact such a temporary suspension.

Jobs and child care

Bruce Manley of Bluegrass Community and Technical College, who also leads a human resources managers network in Clark County, talked about the need to have a number of babysitters or child care workers who are willing to take care of one or two children in their homes in the event that workers’ day care services shut down.

Manley also mentioned a YouTube video about how to file for unemployment benefits through the Kentucky Career Center Office of Employment and Training.

Burtner mentioned that the unemployment office in Winchester had been closed for a couple of years but there were offices still in Richmond and Lexington, and that people can apply online.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

email author More by Randy