By: Marcus Smith and Chris Corcoran
Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program is now offering virtual support for families to ensure that we continue to make their homes healthier and safer to live in. We made this shift out of necessity due the COVID-19 pandemic. We are proud to be able to continue our work as part of the “new normal” we all find ourselves living in.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Connecticut in March, Healthy Homes suspended its work for three months out of concern for the health and safety of our team members and the children and families we serve. After that, it took about another month to get back up and running. We needed to alter our contracts and other documents to reflect the realities of the pandemic. We needed to create waivers for team members, families and contractors to sign to minimize any liability should anyone contract the COVID-19 virus while our work was underway. We also needed to have extensive conversations with contractors, families and team members to ensure that all were comfortable proceeding in this new environment. Our contractors also needed time to order the necessary supplies to restart their work.
Virtual Home Visits
When we begin our work with each new family, we set up a series of home visits with them to educate them about common hazards found in older homes, such as lead, mold and other issues. During these meetings, we also discuss ways they can continue to make their homes healthier and safer after our work is done. Before COVID-19, we conducted these meetings in person as a way to get to know the families and connect with them. Now, we are conducting these meetings over the phone or through video chats to minimize exposure and risk to our team and to the families we serve.
Learn more about Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program.
Virtual Contract Signing
In order to minimize the necessity to meet in person to review and sign contracts, we now conduct our contract signing process using two technologies: Skype and DocuSign. Skype has been a great tool that allows us to conduct a review of the agreements with the property owner, our construction manager and the contractor for the project. We complete a full review of the scope of work, review any questions related to the contracts and establish a timeline for construction activities. Once the call is complete, we send the contract documents to the owner and contractor through DocuSign, which has streamlined the process significantly. This new virtual process has been a real time saver for property owners, who no longer need to travel to Hartford to meet in person, and our contractors, who can focus more time and effort on making homes safe and healthy.
Work on Homes
In addition to launching virtual home visits and contract signing, our contractors are also resuming their work in remediating the concerns inside homes that too often contribute to poorer health and developmental outcomes for children. However, we have also made changes to this process with health and safety in mind. The home assessors we contract with are all using appropriate personal protective equipment. In addition, while our assessors are there, we ask families to either leave the home or have no more than one adult present. We are also following the same procedure for our bid walks, in which our contractors walk through homes to assess the cost of the work. We feel this process helps us to minimize exposure for our team and the families we serve, while also allowing us to move forward with the important work of making needed improvements to older homes.
We are fortunate to receive tremendous financial support for our work through the state of Connecticut and through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They did not penalize us for a lack of productivity during the initial months after the pandemic began. Instead, they offered extensions so we could continue to do this important work once it was safe to resume operations.
We are excited to pivot and resume our work and believe the families we serve are grateful to rely on us once again, even with the new protocols in place. We are preparing for the potential of another spike in COVID-19 cases, and we are taking the necessary steps to put additional protocols in place to enable us to continue serving children and families through whatever lies ahead.
Marcus Smith is the senior manager of Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.
Chris Corcoran is the program manager of Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program.
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