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Sorry, We’re Closed

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

By Sarah Sweeney
May 2, 2020

One of the most difficult transitions that our office has had to make is closing down our lobbies during the pandemic, until business operations across the state return to normal. After our Governor issued our Stay Home Stay Safe order and much of our staff were sent home to telework, a skeleton crew of staff was left behind to serve clients as best we could with many restrictions in place. Transitioning from a full service office where clients are guaranteed a same-day safety net of services to a limited and by-appointment-only operation has been difficult to navigate with our clients. We serve some of the most vulnerable clients in the area, many of whom are homeless and without the resources to make or keep appointments, let alone conduct necessary interviews over the phone or internet. When we have clients coming to our doors asking for help, it is an unfortunate side effect of this quarantine having to tell them we cannot help them in the moment, or without an appointment.

As a public administrator and fairly new manager, it has been a complex learning curve to read and absorb new policies and help implement them on a daily basis with staff who are offsite and also adjusting to a new way of doing business via teleworking. Keeping up-to-date on state mandates, changing office procedures and supporting staff and clients day to day has been invigorating and challenging. I still commute to my office, supporting in-house operations so that we can keep our doors open to the limited public still accessing services in our lobbies. To learn from my administrators and city, county and state officials throughout this process has been invaluable in learning how to be a better leader. Making tough decisions on behalf of the greater good can sometimes bring with it more questions than answers from constituents and community providers. But it is important to stay committed to those decisions so that we can best support our communities.

It has been 100 days since the first confirmed case of COVID was discovered in Washington State and now is it becoming real that we might return back to operating our offices sometime soon. As a leader in an essential business it has become clear that we must adjust the way in which we work moving forward and I’ve been doing what I can to translate the messages and lessons from our leaders to best communicate that to my team and colleagues. As public stewards and administrators we must be in partnership with our communities to recover from what has transpired these past weeks and months, but we must do that together so that we come out with an equal understanding of what comes next. It has become routine to apologize to our clients that we are closed and cannot help them from the local office, and I look forward to swinging those doors open once again to provide effective and efficient customer service. Following the lead of our Governor, Mayors and public officials will help guide us to the right time to reopen those doors so that we can fulfill our mission to serve the public good.

When it is decided to reincorporate staff and services to the office setting, my goal as part of the leadership team is to ensure we are taking necessary precautions to return safely and slowly so that we are setting ourselves and clients up for success. As public servants we are the frontline of support between those making policy decisions and those effected by them and so we must take the time to fully understand the purpose, impact and expected outcomes from them. Throughout this time there have been multiple and seemingly constant changes, so the better we understand them the better we can communicate them to our communities. I am proud to be a public administrator. This has been such a special time to be an engaged member of this agency and larger community of public servants. The long-term side effects of this pandemic are sure to be felt for months and even years ahead, so we must get ahead of that curve and acknowledge the work ahead of us. Ask questions, make difficult decisions and remember to take care of yourself and each other.

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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