Veterans Inc.

COVID-19 Updates

Updated December 18, 2020

About Veterans Inc.:

Veterans Inc. is New England’s leading provider of support services to veterans and their families. A 501(c)3 non-profit, the organization’s single-minded mission is to be there for our veterans in their time of need. Incorporated in 1990, Veterans Inc. has helped more than 85,000 veterans in need and today operates offices and programs in all six New England states as well as Montana and North Dakota. Our services include housing, employment & training, counseling, family support programs, benefits counseling and advocacy, temporary financial assistance, health and wellness, food services, post-9/11 support, and women & childcare services. Additionally, the organization opened the Independence Hall substance abuse treatment program, located in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, the first substance abuse treatment facility prioritizing veterans outside the VA system in the United States.

 

Veterans Inc. serves Veterans and military members, including those who are not eligible for Veterans Affairs services, such as National Guard members. For three decades, the population served by our programs has included homeless Veterans and those at risk of becoming homeless, and their families. Close to 100% of the Veterans who access Veterans Inc. services live at or below the federal poverty level and nearly 78% of residents suffer from substance abuse and/or mental illness. Compounding poverty is the need, because of COVID-19, to adjust our support services now and probably for months to come as we reach out to the most vulnerable in the Veteran population.

 

People experiencing homelessness are at great risk for infection during the community spread of COVID-19 and contribute to an increase in emergency shelter usage, leading to illness and absenteeism among homeless service provider staff.  Providing housing and support to homeless persons, particularly during these times, works to improve health outcomes.  Veterans Inc. provides emergency shelter, transitional, and permanent supportive housing, separating clients as much as possible to reduce the risk of the coronavirus.

 

  1. Brief outline of COVID response:

 

Food Services

Veterans Inc. has responded to the increased demand for food services for our homeless Veterans in Worcester Country. Veterans Inc.’s Grove Street facility provides three meals a day for Veterans residents of the housing program and food services are provided seven days a week.

 

In 2019, the Veterans Inc. Food Pantry was open on a monthly schedule. In March of this year, however, the pantry had to be closed due to COVID-19. As of May 21, the pantry has reopened for curbside food distribution. Emergency food boxes for qualifying individuals are available Monday – Friday. Food pantry participation is also a catchment for our case management staff to connect with Veterans and Veteran families in need. On November 24th, Veterans Inc. safely organized its annual Holiday Harvest Food Pantry day which provided veterans and their families with a food box of turkey and all of the fixings to prepare a Thanksgiving meal.

 

Outreach

Outreach services are currently provided by a team of four. Two new outreach staff seek unsheltered homeless Veterans, screen them for symptoms and provide them with updated information about COVID-19, resources, and supplies like hand sanitizer wipes, and facilitate access to services. In addition, there are two outreach staff including a VA Accredited Claims Agent and MassHealth Certified Application Counselor, who work to get Veterans and their families signed up for benefits and healthcare, and assist with other needs.

 

Contingency Plan

A COVID-19 Contingency Plan was developed to define a plan for reducing virus spread. The Plan formalizes the procedures that had to be put in place to protect staff and Veteran residents. The Plan defines the cleaning and disinfecting procedure as well as the daily health procedures for each staff member and resident. Importantly, quarantine safety and security procedures for both staff and residents were developed.

Under guidance issued by the MA governor, Veterans Inc. is providing surveillance testing of staff in congregate care settings per state guidelines.

 

Provision of Safety Items and Cleanliness

Veterans Inc. ensures that safety and cleanliness are maintained to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses. Items such as general, household, and cleaning supplies such as toiletries, linens, towels, sanitizer, soap, tissues, toilet paper, trash bags, face coverings, disposable gloves, gowns, and other personal protection equipment (PPE) are provided as well as professional cleaning and sanitizing and new washers/dryers to ensure appropriate laundering.  Following social distancing guidelines, partitions to separate beds and sneeze guards/physical barriers have been added.

 

Staff and Resident COVID Training

We have provided information on how viruses are transmitted, strongly promote the practice of healthy hygiene habits among staff and Veterans residing in our homeless programs and provide information on handwashing and cough etiquette, use of cloth face coverings, and social distancing.

 

Additional Support Staff

In keeping with CDC recommendations to arrange for continuity of and surge support for mental health, substance use treatment services, and general medical care, Veterans Inc. has hired a Clinical Manager as well as a full-time nurse to provide health screenings and assessments and assist with preventive care for homeless veterans; a part-time nurse is also planned. The nurse will regularly assess clients, staff, and volunteers and provide training and educational materials related to COVID-19 and training on the proper use of PPE. The nurse will facilitate access to non-urgent medical care as needed and be the point of contact with the local medical facility for any clients that might have COVID-19. Independence Hall, the Veterans Inc. treatment center in Shrewsbury, MA, also has nurses on staff and a nursing manager that facilitates access to non-urgent medical care as needed for clients.

 

Safety and security protocols

Admission is limited to staff and any required service providers. Everyone entering the building must pass required screening procedures and questions; temperatures are checked every time a person enters the building. Staff maintains social distancing between themselves and clients while providing necessary services. In order to respond to isolation and quarantine, hotels have been used for homeless clients when necessary.

 

Maintaining all services with reduced income

Utilizing grant funding received previous to the outbreak as well as emergency relief funding, Veterans Inc. will work to continue to sustain services to homeless and at-risk Veterans and their families. Staffing has been maintained with some individuals working remotely to provide supportive services our community. Onsite staff have received personal protective equipment (PPE) as have residents in our housing programs. Veterans Inc. continues to pursue financial assistance in order to continue supporting the well-being of those we serve.

 

  1. Urgent needs:

 

  1. Veterans Inc. needs to make renovations to existing space to create a triage/screening room for Veteran clients entering as well as isolation space for those who may be symptomatic. The triage room will need to be furnished with a hospital bed and include a hand-washing station.

 

  1. A separate bathroom, which follows CDC guidelines of designating a separate bathroom for clients who may be symptomatic, is also a critical need.
  2. The opiate epidemic continues to be the single most urgent health problem facing Central Massachusetts, where opiate overdose remains the leading cause of death for the under 50 population. Grim statistics continue to validate the conclusion that we are in the midst of the worst drug addiction crisis in the history of our country. When coupled with the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic on those with an addiction, it becomes extremely clear that there is an urgent need for easily accessible recovery support services for addiction. Veterans Inc. would like to expand its offering of treatment services by offering intensive outpatient at the headquarters site on Grove Street in Worcester, which will be a great benefit to veteran residents who can then access these services onsite.
  3. Veterans Inc. sees a real need to develop creative solutions for food distribution to those most in need. These solutions would include delivery and expanded curbside pickup. Supporting food insecurity is needed now more than ever. Funding for a vehicle and a driver to make deliveries would go a long way in meeting this need for veterans and their families.
  4. Additional staff are needed to ensure the provision of safe services such as cleaning, screenings, safety checks, and staggered meal service.
  5. Veterans Inc. is in need of upgraded technology for programs such as telehealth stations for clients to access care, text message services for appointment reminders, online platforms for client program applications, software for obtaining required digital signatures, and computer hardware and software upgrades to meet current needs.
  6. Veterans Inc. is in need of an additional vehicle to provide client transportation to health appointments, medication-assisted treatment, job interviews, etc. that cannot be done virtually.

 

Updated on April 8, 2020

A letter from Vincent J. Perrone, Lt Colonel, USAF (retired), President and CEO Veterans Inc.

 
Dear Friends,
 
I hope this message finds you and your family healthy and well during the current pandemic caused by Coronavirus (COVID-19). Thank you for your ongoing commitment to our mission to be there for our Veterans in their time of need. I am reaching out today to ask for your help.
To say that homeless and those at risk are even more vulnerable during this crisis would be an understatement. Veterans Inc. is an essential business. We must remain open to care for our homeless Veterans.
 
The health and safety of our clients and staff remains our top priority.
 
As we face these challenging times together, we want you to know what we are doing to help keep the Veterans we serve and our employees safe and healthy.
 
We have been closely monitoring guidance from public health officials. We have ramped up efforts to ensure the cleanliness of facilities by increasing routine cleaning with special attention of frequently touches surfaces. We have, in larger facilities, hired professionals to fully clean and disinfect. We have purchased additional supplies. We have provided information on how viruses are transmitted and strongly promoted the practice of healthy hygiene habits amongst staff and Veterans residing in our homeless programs. We have purchased additional food to ensure our Veterans are well-nourished.
 
We have implemented safety and security protocols at every residential site. Admission is limited to staff and any required service providers. All who enter must pass rigorous screening procedures and questions; temperatures are checked each and every time one enters the building.
 
If an employee is sick in any way they are required to stay home.
 
Many staff members are now working remotely – still serving our veterans and families in the community.
 
For thirty years Veterans Inc. has been caring for and protecting Veterans who have honorably served our country as well as their families in need. But now we find that the need may be too great given our current resources and we need your support.
 
We are in need of monetary donations, packaged food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and personal protection equipment (PPE).
 
The staff and clients at Veterans Inc., like you, are doing their best to navigate these unprecedented events.
 
This crisis and the changes we have made to combat it has created a significant financial strain on our budget.
 
We know that we will be facing even more hardship as fundraising events are postponed. The sponsorships, donations, and grants that we rely on are already beginning to diminish.
 
We are grateful to the many friends who have asked us how they can help.
 
In response, we have started a Recovery Fund to offset the additional costs we are incurring – as well as to support the special needs of our Veterans.
 
I ask for your support as we continue to make our way through these incredibly unique circumstances.
 
Your financial support helps Veterans Inc. continue our mission we started thirty years ago.
 
Please remember, “They were there when we needed them…we MUST be there now that they need us”…
 
I invite you to send any questions to info@veteransinc.org or call 800-482-2565.
 
On behalf of our Veterans, I thank you for your support.
 
Sincerely,
vin signature