The COVID-19 outbreak has officially been categorized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. In the United States, the total number of people infected and the number of people who have died grows daily. Within this atmosphere, Texas youth service providers are working to provide support and services to their clients while also keeping their staff members, volunteers, and their families as safe as possible from potential exposure and infection.
Most providers are suspending in-person, face-to-face contact with clients, and colleagues and moving toward a model of working from home and communicating virtually. For many providers, especially non-residential providers, this creates challenges in how to maintain connections with clients and provide them the support and case management they need, particularly in the context of the current crisis. It also has created challenges with case management requirements such as getting signatures from clients or their guardians.
Technology has long been created and adapted to provide more efficient and nimble workplaces. There are a number of software and services that providers can use to make it easier for staff to work remotely while maintaining productivity and connectedness to each other and to their clients. Some examples of these services include:
Conference Calls and Meetings
It is vital that leadership and colleagues are able to maintain contact with each other beyond emails and other one-way communications. The ability to easily set up conference calls and online, virtual meetings ensures that colleagues can continue to conduct case management as well as check in with each other. Many conference call software companies are providing free or greatly reduced services for small businesses and nonprofits during the COVID-19 outbreak. Examples include Zoom, WebEx, Go-to-Meeting, and Google Hangouts, which is a part of Google’s G-Suite.
Trainings and Webinars
Organizations continue to need to provide training and guidance to staff and volunteers, either through training modules or webinars. Many organizations have already begun to use online resources for training and webinars, but will likely use them much more over the next few months. Most services that are used for training and webinars enable the moderator or presenter to have a lot of control over content and participation by those tuned into a live presentation. In addition, most of these services enable the presenter to share slideshows, spreadsheets, or other documents. Examples include Adobe Connect, Go-to-Meeting, Zoom, WebEx, and Prezi.
Remote Therapy/Remote Case Management
Important functions of most youth service providers involve connecting and working with clients through case management, counseling, and therapy. These connections need to establish an atmosphere of safety and security for the client, including assurances that their sessions are private and confidential. There are a number of online services that meet the standards of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), such as some that have been mentioned already (WebEx and Zoom), as well as others developed specifically for therapeutic use such as Doxy or TheraNest. Zoom has a guide, Zoom for Healthcare, that specifically highlights the services and supports Zoom provides for healthcare practitioners and patients. Many of these services have reduced their fees or have waived them during the COVID-19 outbreak to enable service providers to continue to offer critical services.
Project Management and Team Collaboration
Important organizational functions, such as keeping track of projects and team collaboration, may become more challenging when staff are working remotely. There are many tools that can help teams collaborate and manage projects, ranging from simple “to-do” lists like Evernote or Todoist to software and apps that enable staff to engage and collaborate on multiple projects like Basecamp or Slack. These tools encourage communication and can also help reestablish a routine and a sense of normalcy through the ability to engage and connect with colleagues in real time.
Many regulatory agencies require that practitioners obtain signatures from clients or their guardians as a part of case management and other services. This poses a challenge when providers are unable to meet with clients face-to-face. For many years, electronic signatures have been accepted as valid as long as both parties consent on the format and certain safeguards are in place to ensure the designated person is the signatory. DocuSign is the most well-known application, and can be used across multiple devices including cell phones. Others include HelloSign, or Contractbook. Adobe Pro also has an e-sign feature. If you are working in Adobe, Adobe Sign is an option but can be expensive if your organization does not have the full Adobe software. Most e-Signature apps offer basic features, like the ability to password-protect a document so that only the correct person can sign it. Some eSignature apps offer steps beyond that, like requiring the signer to receive a verification code via SMS before they can sign. And many, but not all, apps use bank-level encryption when transmitting and storing documents for extra security.
Every organization and agency will need to navigate what tools and resources they will adopt based on the unique needs and barriers they face. TNOYS does not endorse nor recommend any services or products mentioned in this post. Most are services and products practitioners in Texas and across the country indicate they are currently successfully using.
National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) published a Digital Services Assessment for Readiness from National Network to End Domestic Violence. NNEDV developed the following goals for Digital Services:
GOALS FOR DIGITAL SERVICES
If you determine online services are needed, the next step is to articulate goals that are survivor-centered, reflect the needs of your community, and overcome barriers survivors face when trying to access your program. Writing out these goals will help your agency prepare to provide digital services. The following questions can help guide your goal setting process:
- Who are you hoping will use the new platform?
- What type of services will be offered? (Hotline? Ongoing advocacy? Individual counseling? Group counseling? Appointment reminders?)
- What type of technology is best suited to provide those services?
- When will services be available? 24/7 or during set hours? Will there be time limits set for ongoing advocacy services?
- How will you notify survivors about availability? Will you market it broadly, or only discuss it with existing clients?
- How will you know the new services are successful?
- Do you plan to expand digital services over time?
- What other resources need to be in place to support survivors that reach out through the new service?
Survivor-centered goal setting must include considering and planning for supplemental support that may be needed by survivors from culturally specific communities. For example, a program might think that adding text messaging to a hotline will increase access for the Deaf community. But if the program hasn’t properly prepared for a new influx of requests from Deaf individuals by building up a referral list, identifying interpreters, training staff about text lingo unique to the Deaf community, and determining how the shelter will accommodate Deaf survivors, they could actually end up causing harm.
National Network to End Domestic Violence has a website devoted to Technology Safety that has a page that addresses Technology Safety and Assessing Readiness for Digital Services that has resources and guidance on privacy, safety, as well as information on platforms and tools that can be used. The website also has a page devoted to Best Practice Principles for Digital Services
Many of these tools and services have multiple price plans and packages, and some have waived fees during the COVID-19 crisis. Click on the links below to view pricing and packages available.
Zoom can be used for multiple tasks, such as conference calls, training, webinars, remote therapy and case management. The basic account is free and allows for up to 100 participants, but limits meetings to 40 minutes. It is HIPAA compliant.
WebEx can also be used for multiple tasks like conference calls, training, webinars and remote therapy or case management. The free basic account for WebEx has been enhanced if you register for a new account after March 6, 2020. Meeting time has been extended from 40 minutes to unlimited, and the meeting size limit has increased to 100 from 50. WebEx is HIPAA compliant.
Go-to-Meeting is a multi-tasking program as well, and all packages are fee-based starting at $12 per month for the “Professional” package. It is not HIPAA compliant.
Google Hangouts can easily be used for check ins and team meetings, as well as for connecting with youth or other clients. Hangouts has some fee-based enhanced features, but the main platform is free.
Adobe-Connect is used for webinars, conference calls, and online training. It includes multiple pricing platforms with a large number of services and add-ons at each level. It is a good platform for large scale trainings and meetings.
Prezi is used mainly for webinars, presentations and trainings. It has three pricing options starting at $7/mo, and a 14 day free trial (though you have to enter your credit card information, and you will be automatically billed after the free trial ends if you do not cancel). The standard option appears rather limited.
Doxy is specifically for use in telemedicine, and has three pricing options. The free option allows for accessibility for anyone with unlimited minutes and sessions. The other options include some additional features, and are more for clinics or facilities. It is HIPAA compliant.
TheraNest has a fee of $38/mo, and offers 2 months free if you pay for a full year rather than monthly. It is HIPAA compliant and geared toward practitioners providing therapeutic services.
Basecamp is a team and project management tool that can help teams working remotely to keep on track of work and tasks. It has a flat fee of $99/mo, with the ability to have unlimited projects and users among other features. A free 30 day trial is available, which does not require credit card information. There is a calendar feature and the ability to upload documents.
Slack is also a team and project management tool that helps keep remote teams connected. It has a free level and three fee based levels. The free level has limits on the number of team messages (10,000) that will be viewable. Slack is organized in “channels” where team members can communicate and share links and documents. There is also a direct message feature for individual or small group messaging.
DocuSign has four pricing plans, starting with an individual plan that limits the number of eSignature documents to 5 per month. The Standard and Business Pro plans allow for 3 users, although you can work to develop a plan that works with your organization to add additional users.
HelloSign also has four pricing plans, with the individual plan being free but limited to 3 signature requests per month. At the Enterprise level, the signatures are HIPAA compliant.
Contractbook is geared for businesses and law firms that deal in contracts, but may have applicable services for youth service providers. There are four pricing plans, starting with a free plan.
Adobe Acrobat Pro with e-Sign requires an annual commitment and is licensed for individuals. It works with a number of cloud services and applications, and allows for signatures from recipients without having to sign up for or download software.
TNOYS is committed to providing up to date guidance and information relevant to Texas youth service providers as we all experience the rapidly changing landscape we are all navigating as a result of COVID-19. If you have questions or information you would like to share with the TNOYS network, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.