’When testing just isn’t enough’
Front-line medical workers say a lot of families in Roaring Fork Valley are still hurting from the fallout of COVID-19
Two nurses who have worked the front lines since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic say the demand for medical care and social services in the Roaring Fork Valley is unabated.
Lisa Robbiano and Lisa O’Neil of Midvalley Family Practice in Basalt said it has been helpful that COVID-19 testing sites have been expanded in recent weeks. However, based on what they have witnessed, people on the lower end of the economic scale are still struggling with the pandemic and its fallout.
“The social services aren’t being addressed,” Robbiano said.
The doctor’s office expanded its mission in response. Their new motto is, “When testing just isn’t enough,” Robbiano said.
MidValley Family Practice and Dr. Glenn Kotz created a nonprofit called Healthy All Together to raise funds to provide tests, a full medical evaluation and other services to those in greatest need. The clinic provides tests and bills those who can pay; the nonprofit arm takes care of those without insurance.
As of Thanksgiving, they had conducted 1,700 tests for COVID-19. About 630 of those were conducted at the MIRA bus, a service through Eagle County that provides social services, with a focus on the immigrant community.
Robbiano and O’Neil said the original big wave for COVID-19 in the region hit in July. There was a lull in August.
“It ramped up in October and now it’s spiked,” Robbiano said. “We can’t (serve) the number of people that are calling.”
The medical community and public health officials in the region and elsewhere believe the number of positive cases will climb after holiday gatherings.
“I can’t even imagine what it’s going to look like after Thanksgiving with all the travel going on,” Robbiano said.
O’Neil said that even nine months into the pandemic, many of the people they treat are still unaware of where to turn for help.
“People just don’t know where to go for services and they’re sick at the same time,” she said.
In some cases, they know of resources but are intimidated by applying for them.
Many people are facing a “triple whammy” because they test positive, lose their job or get hours reduced and cannot pay their rent, said Robbiano. Imagine the stress of worrying about the roof over your head at the same time you’re dealing with illness, she said.
Healthy All Together executive director Jared Rollins said they have collaborated with other social service providers to get aid onto the front line. At COVID testing sites they have distributed about 800 bags of food that were provided by Lift-Up. They distributed $30,000 in rental assistance through a grant from Aspen Community Foundation and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
The clinic also distributed 40 coats that were collected in a coat drive with its regular patients.
“Collaboration is key,” Rollins said.
As the pandemic and fallout drags on, he is advocating for increased effort to get funds into the hands of front-line organizations that have direct contact with people in need. Providing cash to those in need is the most effective aid, in his opinion.
“People need money and they know what to do with it,” Rollins said.
If some needs are unmet, it’s not from lack of trying. Instead, it’s because of unprecedented demand.
Colorado’s unemployment rate was 6.4 percent in October, the latest month available. The mountain resort areas have been hit harder: Pitkin County was at 7.6 percent while Eagle County was at 7.3 percent. Garfield County bucked the trend with an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in October, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
The state statistics tell only part of the story. Valley Settlement, a Roaring Fork Valley-based nonprofit organization helped immigrant families adjust, has conducted a needs assessment three times during the pandemic via a survey with people who are its clients.
The latest survey in October showed 36 of 157 households responding said at least one wage earner was out of a job. That’s 23 percent. Another 94 of 157 or 60 percent said at least one wage earner was at reduced hours.
Sixty-two percent of those who lost their jobs are not receiving unemployment benefits.
Sally Boughton, development and communications director for Carbondale-based Valley Settlement, compared the results of the surveys from October and April.
“Unemployment has recovered a bit, but the majority of households are still impacted by reduction of hours of loss of work,” she wrote.
Concerns about food security had dropped since April, according to survey respondents. “Rent and bill pay are still the top concern for financial stability,” Boughton’s report said. In October, 37 percent of respondents sought help paying bills and 25 percent specifically said they needed help with rent.
The unknown factor facing Valley Settlement and other nonprofits focused on social services is how long the pandemic and related problems will linger and how severe it will get before vaccinations ease the threat. Boughton said the fallout is likely to continue after the pandemic.
“How long will it take for families in our valley to fully financially recover from this?” she asked. “Many may be playing catch-up for years.”
Valley Settlement teamed with FocusedKids and the Manaus Fund to distribute over $2 million in emergency relief throughout the region since mid-March. They received a grant from Aspen Community Foundation and each organization received donations from individuals and foundations.
One of Valley Settlement’s goals for 2021 will be continued disbursement of emergency relief funds in partnership with other organizations.
“We are anticipating a rise in the requests for rental assistance and other household bills as the winter progresses and COVID cases spike,” Boughton said.
It will also focus on its core missions of supporting families to help their children develop and learn, and identify high-needs families that require help with information and resources to stay healthy and safe.
The Aspen Community Foundation has compiled a comprehensive list on how people from Aspen to Parachute can find help dealing with COVID-19 and its impacts. Go to https://a2pcovid.org/
Aspen Community Foundation executive director Tamara Tormohlen said the organization has raised $7 million for emergency relief aid since the pandemic started. About $5 million has been disbursed thus far through 35 organizations that received grants. The foundation created the 2020 Rescue Fund for efforts aimed at providing assistance for people “falling through the cracks.” The COVID-19 Regional Response Fund is for immediate and long-term needs of families from Aspen to Parachute.
The thousands of families that have been helped received about $800, on average.
“We’re working mostly with (nonprofits) that deliver direct services,” Tormohlen said.
She credited the broader community for rallying to provide the relief and the nonprofit organizations for establishing systems to disperse aid. But the ongoing emergency presents challenges. There is such a thing as “disaster philanthropy” where there is an immediate response to an emergency that tails off after time, Tormohlen said. The pandemic presents a different type of challenge because it is ongoing and evolving.
An estimated 12 million Americans will lose federal unemployment benefits the day after Christmas, according to NPR. Also scheduled to end is a federal order stopping many renters from getting evicted.
If Congress doesn’t act to extend the benefits and prevent the evictions, the Roaring Fork Valley and lower Colorado River Valley will experience a new round of needs.
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