Agency heads report from the frontlines

COVID-19 response and continuing efforts outlined at Government Affairs Committee session

The heads of five major Jewish Federation partner agencies came together, virtually, May 15 to detail the impact the pandemic has had on their operations and on the thousands of Chicagoans in need they serve.

At the session, hosted by the Federation's Government Affairs Committee, some 130 online guests heard from JCFS Chicago President & CEO Howard Sitron; CJE SeniorLife President & CEO Dan Fagin; Sinai Health System President & CEO Karen Teitelbaum; JCC Chicago President & CEO Addie Goodman; and The ARK's Executive Director, Marc Swatez.

Each outlined their agency's response to the COVID-19 crisis and the continuing frontline efforts to provide essential services to those in need. The Federation's Washington, D.C., staff also reported on Congress' and the administration's response to the crisis.

Sitron noted how JCFS Chicago quickly transitioned to telehealth while still maintaining in-person check-ins. All four JCFS resident support facilities continue to function, but Sitron said the agency is feeling the higher demand for services. As JCFS moves forward to fully reopen, Sitron anticipates a tidal wave of mental and psychological health issues.

CJE SeniorLife continues to serve the approximately 800 residents of its assisted living and skilled care facilities, but is struggling to engage the hundreds of non-residents who normally enjoy day programming. Fagin stressed that staff in the residential facilities are doing heroic work as much as any other frontline worker and should be recognized for their efforts. 

Teitelbaum addressed racial health disparities and social determinants of health, noting that this healthcare crisis has put a national spotlight on this problem. However, this is not new for Sinai, and Teitelbaum is hoping this widespread attention will give Sinai a platform from which to lead earnest discussions on improving the current systems. She also spoke about a task force of Illinois health care leaders, for which she has coordinated a response, collected data, and shared best practices with CEOs from several other hospital systems.

Goodman commented that JCC Chicago has had to quickly adjust and now offers vastly improved online programming and engagement. Once the crisis has passed, she plans to look at ways to expand in the social services realm and coordinate such work with other Jewish nonprofits in the area.

The ARK has added more than 150 new clients since the COVID-19 crisis began, Swatez said, and has seen a massive number of returning clients who either need more extensive support now, or had not relied upon the agency in years. The ARK's financial assistance program is up 300%, and 75% of the clients it had helped secure employment have been furloughed. Swatez expects the eventual recovery to look a lot like the 2008 financial crisis, which left many families in dire financial situations for years to come. 

"Our affiliated agencies are facing unprecedented challenges to make sure that people throughout the community continue to have access to critical services," said Lee Miller, Government Affairs Committee chair. "We are fortunate to have such committed agency leaders who press on despite so many obstacles."


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