As COVID-19 hit earlier this year, Pittsburgh Mercy found itself working on many different fronts as its staff continued to serve people through behavioral health, substance use, intellectual disabilities, physical health and homelessness services, among others. Over the last eight months, through creativity, hard work and collaboration, Pittsburgh Mercy quickly adapted to this “new normal” as part of the job — and as a labor of love.
Within three short weeks, the community health and wellness provider launched telehealth services so clinicians could safely continue to provide services to children and adults. In the first six months of the pandemic, Pittsburgh Mercy provided over 50,000 physical and behavioral health virtual visits using secure telehealth technology.
Testing and Physical Health
Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center, on Pittsburgh’s South Side, became an Allegheny County Health Department COVID-19 community testing site, conducting over 1,000 tests for the public in addition to staff testing. By regularly testing staff, they were able to make clinical decisions to keep people safe, mitigate risks and stop the potential spread of coronavirus. Also, Pittsburgh Mercy Pharmacy’s team has been making the rounds of the agency’s residential sites to administer flu shots.
The Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) designated Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net (OSN) as the provider to visit the city’s homeless camps during the height of the pandemic shutdown. The OSN team helped install portable toilets, sinks for handwashing and water buffalos to provide safe hygiene while giving care to those experiencing unsheltered homelessness. The case managers, outreach workers and medical staff continue to make wellness visits. As part of the Pittsburgh Mercy Family of Care, Bethlehem Haven’s team has also been doing some incredible work behind the scenes to bring essential services to women experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.
Addressing Food Insecurity
Pittsburgh Mercy’s community-based teams, in partnership with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, delivered pre-packaged boxes of food to families and individuals in need. Intervention staff constructed “ready-to-eat” food boxes for delivery to those served by OSN and packaged boxes at the Light of Life Donation Center for families in the community, while other staff delivered meals to veterans.
Quarantine Home volunteers
Five brave staff members volunteered to provide compassionate care at two “quarantine homes” established specifically to serve people living in Pittsburgh Mercy’s residential sites who contracted COVID-19 during a spike over the summer.
- McAuley Ministries, Pittsburgh Mercy’s grant-making foundation, continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, awarding $631,000 in grants (as of November 1, 2020) to community organizations.
- Pittsburgh Mercy Parish Nurse & Health Ministry Program has been utilizing Zoom to host free and public Health Ministry Virtual Meetings each month. These meetings provide peer support, learning and conversation around selected topics, as well as candlelight meditation and prayer gatherings for anyone who chooses to attend.
Little Things Mean a Lot
The following list, while by no means inclusive, demonstrates ways in which staff, volunteers and people served put resources and creativity — and love — to work:
- Initially, a number of staff members assembled makeshift face coverings for colleagues and people served; when cloth masks were recommended as a key prevention strategy, others spent the early spring sewing masks. Clear face coverings were made for staff and people served who speak with American Sign Language (ASL), allowing them to read lips.
- Community Treatment Teams (CTT) offered twice-a-week virtual bingo games to keep those served engaged and enjoying life.
- Paths to Wellness colleagues reached out to people served at residential sites with ‘Packages of Love’ containing personal hygiene packages and with inspiring communications to maintain connection when coronavirus mitigation efforts kept them apart.
- Pittsburgh Mercy Intellectual Disabilities Services held physically distanced lawn picnics and encouraged art as an uplifting activity.
- Despite these stressful times, tobacco cessation specialists have continued to successfully help both staff and people served to quit smoking.
- An OSN volunteer rallied her work colleagues at UPMC hospitals and donated more than 4,400 masks to Pittsburgh Mercy’s homeless services.
- An Outpatient and Service Coordination client donated brand new tents, sleeping bags and other supplies for people experiencing homelessness.
- With the help of staff, children and transition-aged residents created inspiring chalk drawings that brought smiles to the faces of weary staff.