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Anyone There?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
August 9, 2020

The past four months have provided the opportunity to reflect on how service delivery can adapt to the needs of community. Transitioning to a remote environment, for many, has been a disruption in their daily routine and has impacted the economy, business models and staffing capabilities of various organizations. Back in March I am sure no one would have imagined we would still be largely isolated and teleworking, especially considering the messaging that was released nationwide early on in the pandemic. However now that we are months in and have opened and mostly closed again, it has become clear that nothing is changing anytime soon.

My agency has made the decision to remain shuttered, for the most part, through the end of 2020, and I am very concerned about the social impact this will have on the most vulnerable we serve. As a social service provider it is our duty to protect our clients and ensure their basic needs are met to the best of our abilities. As public administrators and leaders in our communities it is up to us to educate and guide our agencies during this sensitive time. By following the direction of national leaders in health and science we can overcome the barriers we face daily in opening our business to the public. We must remain steadfast in our duty to protect and serve.

There are many days I sit and wonder what’s next, how our society will change and if we will come out on the other side of this pandemic successful. But what does that look like and who will decide we have indeed been successful? Obviously there are varied opinions on the matter from the highest level of government to the streets of our cities; and at the end of the day we must acknowledge our common enemy—the pandemic. Recent events have created social distrust and a long road of recovery ahead; together we can solve the problems. We must lead our cities, states and nation accordingly if we are to ever get ahead of the curve. My current position in state government has afforded me the opportunity to serve clients on the front lines of service delivery, to speak with them on the phone and look them in the face when they present to our doors. The inability to fully serve our clientele is frustrating. However I remain in the field to make a difference in our world today. I could give up and move on from service, but that would be moving against my calling in life. To stand up and persevere against all odds, to align the needs of our community against the needs of our economy; this is what we must gently balance if we are to come out ahead.

Here in the State of Washington our Governor and Department of Health have rolled back some of the forward movement we have made in our phased reopening; although it has been difficult to navigate professionally and personally, I agree with the decisions our leaders have made. In order to keep ourselves and those we serve safe; we must make those difficult decisions to pause forward movement. We must fully understand how to safely engage in social services during a pandemic, but it is a community wide effort. This is where public administrators have the unique ability and opportunity to support such decisions and decide how to engage the public in soliciting support on a grand scale. We must all work collaboratively to make national and global changes for the protection of our people. An important lesson we must also remember is to rebuild trust with our constituents, especially those affected by violence and brutality. As I have mentioned, it is our duty to ensure our communities are kept safe and that we recognize the goals and priorities of those we serve, so that we are more effective leaders.

Managing well is something a leader develops over time, by taking chances and soliciting feedback. We must constantly revisit and reimagine the work we are doing to ensure we are serving our communities as best we can. Although our doors are closed for most services and the majority of staff are working remotely, this does not mean that we cannot provide the same customer service and support as before. We must get creative in our approach to developing new paths to reaching the most vulnerable in our society; so that the doors remain open to providing adequate services to those who need it most.

Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and recent graduate of Seattle University’s Master of Public Administration program in Washington State. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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