Stepping forward to help: Staff experiences from Wood’s Homes Pandemic Team 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, social service organizations – such as Wood’s Homes – have been challenged to keep pace with ever-evolving public health policy and protocols, while also maintaining focus on the effective delivery of our mental health services. 

Over the last year, Wood’s Homes has been shoulder-to-shoulder with other children’s mental health congregate care programs and has been faced with positive COVID-19 cases in our live-in programs. Faced with this challenge, senior leadership put out a call to all staff, looking for ‘trailblazers.’ These would be frontline workers who were prepared to join Wood’s HomesPandemic Team – a team of employees who were able to commit to working (up to one month) in a program where there was a positive COVID-19 case. 

The callout was seen as a rather unique opportunity – both challenging and emotionally provoking. It was also a good example of how the agency was looking to learn more about managing staffing and client care in times of a pandemic for future generations.  

Wood’s Homes commitment to safety ensured that the agency put forth full efforts in making sure all guidelines, protocols and safety practices were adhered to in order to minimize any risk to staff or clients.   

Below is how two frontline staff and a manager recall their experiences in stepping forward to help. 

 Ibrahim’s experience: 

“When I first saw the email that invited staff to join Wood’s Homes Pandemic Team, I was a little apprehensive. If I raised my hand, I was worried about the risk posed to my family should I get infected. I was also apprehensive about working in full (and often uncomfortable) PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for 12-hour shifts. 

But after taking a day to think about it and discussing it with my family, I decided to step forward – and was able to have a great and valuable experience with other members of the Pandemic Team. 

When I walked through the doors of the program, I was happy to see that the Team Leader was among those on the team. That alone reassured me about the kind of support that would be available to me and the rest of the staff. Moreover, my worry about wearing full PPE for 12 hours was lifted when I heard that we were only scheduled for nine-hour shifts with an overlapping rotation. The PPE was a little uncomfortable, but I became used to wearing it within my first shift. 

The Wood’s Homes family was more supportive than I could ever have imagined. The united efforts and wonderful spirit of the staff was extremely evident in the love and support we received every day – from cooked meals to the positive messages we regularly received. Adjacent programs spared no efforts in making us feel supported, which encouraged us throughout the entire process. They expressed their care by sending treats, food, drinks, any gear we needed and a variety of thoughtful items to help pass the time.  Additionally, having Team Leaders both inside and outside the program made sure that all of our needs were met in a time-sensitive manner. 

It was such a great experience and if I were to be called back for duty, I would seriously consider doing it again. I would encourage all front-line staff to volunteer, just so that they get to experience all the love and support from the Wood’s Homes family that we did.”  

Marie’s experience: 

“When the call came asking if I was interested in joining Wood’s Homes Pandemic Team, I did not have any hesitations – other than how I was going to discuss it with my family. I will admit there was some fear and apprehension going in. What was it going to be like? What kind of risk was I putting myself in? What if I brought COVID-19 back to my family?  As I sit here now and write this, it was the unknown that was most worrisome. 

With that being said, my family was supportive and so I volunteered. I remember walking into the program on the first day with my suitcase packed for two weeks of venturing into the unknown. But I need not have worried. Wood’s Homes medical team, team leaders, senior leadership and COVID-19 taskforce thought of everything and were all a tremendous help. 

Frankly, the most stressful part of being on the Pandemic Team was doing a TikTok video for a team project. 

The words of support through numerous emails and texts that began on day one and continued until the very last day warmed my heart. The generous deliveries of food, treats (and more treats), homemade goodies, and things to keep our young client and staff occupied were so thoughtful. It made us feel that even though we were isolated, we were never alone.  

We were in good company on the Pandemic Team with the support of so many caring colleagues.”  

Jamie’s experience: 

“I’ve always known that Wood’s Homes pulls together in times of crisis, but it was completely different experiencing this first-hand. When I agreed to joining Wood’s Homes Pandemic Team, I just wanted to get in and get settled as best as I could so that our young client would feel secure and know that he was going to be taken care of. 

I pulled my own children out of school a little bit early that day so I could say goodbye for the next two weeks. It was hard, but my children and husband supported me fully (although I think my dog Rocco is still kind of mad at me). 

Within 30 minutes of being in the program, we received encouraging emails, phone calls and gifts of food, snacks, entertainment, baking – you name it! And it wasn’t just for one day… this generosity continued on for the entire two weeks. I was just blown away by the kindness of our fellow Wood’s Homes teams. This kind of support made it really easy to set aside any anxieties and discomfort of wearing PPE all day and just have fun with our client. We looked like marshmallow monsters and tried to make the best of it by dancing and singing to TikTok videos and playing various games. As a team leader, it was great to see the staff come in day-after-day so full of energy and enthusiasm. Many of them had stepped way out of their comfort zone and for that I am so proud of them. 

I think the hardest part for me was when we were in isolation after our shifts and it was quiet. OK! OK! To be honest, as a mother of two busy kids it was a very welcome getaway. No cleaning, no laundry, no cooking – and I was able to have a shower uninterrupted! That bliss lasted about three days. I started to panic at evening phone calls with my children, as there were usually tears involved while I attemped to explain that their mama was doing something important and that we all had to be strong. I saw my kids and husband step up in a big way to support each other while I was gone. It became lonely being at the hotel, but the highlight was going to the program and laughing and joking with my colleagues. 

I truly think that this is an experience everyone should have. I don’t wish for another pandemic, but everyone should feel the love and caring that comes from near and far when you are in that kind of situation. You hear stories all the time about similar situations, but it doesn’t compare to actually being part of it. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!” 

All Wood’s Homes staff would like to send a heartfelt thanks to those employees who voluntarily stepped forward to help in a time of great need. As the Program Director said with the callout at the time: 

“The going is tough right now but I know we have what it takes.”