What Five Acres had intended to provide in five years occurred in five days. When Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued the safer-at-home emergency order, Five Acres information technology (IT) team set up the agency’s workforce to work remotely and provide telehealth services within a week.
An essential business provider, Five Acres provides residential care to foster care children, who are unable to live at home because they experienced acute trauma. In addition, they offer adoption services, mental health treatment, prevention and early intervention services to keep children safely in the home, and specialty services for children who are deaf.
Led by Five Acres IT director Elena Yau, the team of 10 employees worked side by side to purchase additional laptops and issue them to the staff. “We identified the core services to maintain business continuity,” said Yau. “We looked at anything in our inventory, decent laptops and got them set up daily to get everybody for remote access.”
Yau points out that, for the most part, the agency’s workforce was previously ready for remote work as they have always been mobile, serving clients in their communities, homes, or schools. Today, they’ve “ramped the type of services that were face-to-face to now being a digital format using apps with clients.’
Five Acres quick response enabled their workforce to continue providing all non-residential clients telehealth services without interruption. Sessions are hosted through phone, Skype, FaceTime, or another remote way where both client and clinician can have a confidential conversation in a safe, private space.
“We want to minimize and streamline the process for our clients as much as possible and look at how to remove the barriers for them,” said Yau, who is committed to getting everybody comfortable with this new technology.
Training has been key to this transition. In conjunction with human resources, the onboarding process where the agency’s IT team delivers new equipment to a new employee, trains them on how to use their laptop and the systems, and tests out the documentation process has gone virtual.
In addition, the IT team has assessed client applications, boosted additional training sessions, increased their bandwidth, and deployed software remotely.
“The pandemic has brought us closer,” said Yau, who was part of the COVID-19 response team the agency’s leadership convened. She also acknowledges that the agency’s donors care and understand this human need for mental health services by continuing to support the mission during the pandemic.
“We are working with foundations that have relaxed their requirements to allow us to use funds for technology,” said Yau. “Other businesses are closing doors and can’t restructure themselves to figure out where are the opportunities to help their community and serve their needs.”
With these immediate changes, Yau continues to ask, “How do we build a network to sustain the load?”
Late shifts and weekends. That’s what it took for the Five Acres IT team to orchestrate upgrades that did not interfere with the business operations. They also changed out the wireless technology for the foster care children sheltering in place to minimize their footprint on the agency’s campus.
“Our children continue to stay connected with their families via phone and technology which has not stopped during this time,” said Claudia Rice, the agency’s director of residential-DCFS. “Five Acres encourages the kids and their families to stay connected in hopes to continue working on strengthening their relationship.”
The number of referrals being received by the agency’s community service programs is on the rise due to the mental stress of the pandemic. “Although we were not planning on moving toward telemedicine this quickly, we did,” said Five Acres CEO Chanel Boutakidis, who most recently led the agency in establishing a mental health HOPE line. People can call or text at 800-696-6793 or email HOPE@5acres.org to get help.
Setting up Five Acres community-based team to receive calls coming from the HOPE line, Yau proudly said, “What I appreciate about this agency is that we are providing opportunities in the community, employing people and helping them provide for their families too.”
To learn more about Five Acres and to support the agency’s efforts, visit 5acres.org.
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About Five Acres
Since 1888, Five Acres has protected the most vulnerable members of our community: children. Serving more than 10,000 children and family members annually across six counties, Five Acres strives for permanency—a permanent, loving home—for all children in their care. The three pillars of safety, well-being and permanency provide the framework for its programs and guide the way as the agency develops even more effective means of caring for children and families in crisis. Visit 5acres.org.