Essential Work: CASES’ Facilities Team during COVID-19

Hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, surgical gloves and masks. Four months ago, a purchase order including these items didn’t trigger much response from CASES’ Facilities Team. Now, the purchasing, arrival, and distribution of even a single tube of sanitizer may make the difference in keeping a member of CASES’ staff or a client safe from COVID-19.

“It can feel like a scavenger hunt,” Director of Facilities Management Lissette Rodriguez says. “Supplies are really limited. Orders are backlogged. I’m always thinking about maintaining inventory.”

Back in late February, before the pandemic’s spread was well understood, Lissette and her team worked with CASES’ nursing staff to preemptively order personal protective equipment (PPE). This initial stock proved critical as COVID-19 peaked in New York City, and PPE shortages escalated even as several CASES’ frontline staff—deemed essential workers by the State—continued to deliver in-person services to some of our most at-risk clients. Masks, gloves, and sanitizers were also critical for Lissette and her team of essential Facilities staff maintaining CASES’ supply chains and office spaces for ongoing administrative and direct services work that could not be done remotely.

“There’s a realization that comes with not being able to work from home,” Lissette explains. “It keeps everyone diligent and hands-on. It also takes maintaining sanity and being sure to not get overwhelmed.”

In addition to overseeing supply orders, Lissette and her team have been working to keep CASES’ offices clean and, in recent weeks, coordinating with a range of departments as we prepare to phase-in expanded in-person services and operations. This includes increased engagement with CASES’ medical staff, engagement with HVAC engineers, planning for plexiglass installation, and developing maps and schedules for “hot desks” to be allocated to in-office staff on a rotating basis and consistent with maintaining social distance.

Terry Green and Terrence Burke, two members of the Facilities Team, have continued to perform essential in-office work throughout the pandemic. Prior to mid-March, Terry primarily worked in CASES’ Harlem office, while Terrence primarily worked in our Brooklyn location. Now, they frequently work together.

“It’s never boring,” Terry says, of juggling across tasks.

Some days, he works the front desk, other days he delivers mail or newly arrived PPE between offices. Both Terry and Terrence describe the oddness of working in an office space that had one day been bustling with activity and the next was nearly vacant.

“The first three months were lonely,” Terrence says. “Not seeing people was a very eerie feeling. Smiles mean so much to me. They make the day go by easier. We were missing that.”

CASES’ Harlem office expanded in-person operations in early July, with the Brooklyn office following in August. To ensure this “reopening” is safe, the Facilities Team sanitizes the office every two hours. This is one component of comprehensive safety protocols developed by Lissette in coordination with CASES’ program leadership and Executive Team. The process requires that before reporting in-person to the office all staff must complete an online survey to ensure the most minimal possible risk that someone might bring the virus into the office.

Though having to complete this survey is another daily reminder of the challenges and risks of the pandemic, Terrence looks forward to seeing more staff and clients in the office and is committed to doing whatever is necessary to speed the return to something closer to normal. When asked about how long he thinks that might take, he references a Gandhi quote featured in the lobby of CASES’ Brooklyn office: “The future depends on what we do in the present.”