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For Immediate Release

Message to Families and Guardians

April 17, 2020

Easterseals Arkansas Families and Guardians,

I hope that you all are safe and well as you cope with the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. My name is Ron Ekstrand and I started as the new CEO of Easterseals Arkansas (ESA) on December 30, 2019. While I have met some of you, I look forward to meeting more of you after the COVID-19 crisis has been eliminated. In the meantime, I wanted to provide you a COVID-19 response update.

During the week of March 9, 2020, the COVID19 crisis became all-consuming for Easterseals Arkansas as we were faced with some difficult decisions. Specifically, how could we do our part to try to stop the spread of the virus while continuing to provide services.

From that question and others that followed, we have been using three key criteria to help guide our decisions: first and foremost was the health and safety of the individuals we serve and our staff, second was maintaining employment of as many of our staff as we could, and third was the on-going economic survival of ESA. Below is a recap of the targeted actions taken in each of these areas along with results we have achieved so far.

Health and Safety Measures

On the health and safety front, we quickly implemented strict screening protocols and restricted visitors into our buildings. These protocols have included screening for COVID19 exposure, travel, attendance at large social gatherings, illnesses, and temperatures above 99 degrees.  On March 13, we closed down a number of buildings and some of our programs following the guidance of the state regarding school closures – including: our Little Rock and Stuttgart child development preschools, Outpatient Therapy, our K-12 Academy at Riverdale. On March 17, we also closed our adult day program at the Center for Training and Wellness.

During this crisis, we have a number of programs that have remained open – including our Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), the Butler Adult Living Center (Butler), our Community Waiver services, our four HUD apartment complexes, and our Outreach Program. With distance learning and alternate methods of instruction (AMI), we have also continued to provide instruction for students from the Academy and students in our ACCE program after UA – Little Rock closed its campus. For all of these open programs, we are working closely with our senior leadership team and the CRC Medical Director to review staff self-reporting of travel, and other potential exposures and making case-by-case decisions about their need to self-quarantine instead of working.

Thus far, we have no known positive COVID19 cases among staff or any of the individuals we are continuing to serve. For our CTW participants, we have begun to make weekly health and safety calls to them and/or their guardians see if they need help or support. We are making similar calls to our preschool families in both the Little Rock and Stuttgart locations.

Staff Employment and Continuity

As for programs and staff employment, we have also made great progress using technology and internal transfers to open programs. On March 24, we announced to 99 staff members in closed programs that they would be furloughed from April 3 through June 4. We chose furlough instead of layoffs because we believe the closures to be temporary and wanted to keep as many of them on the team as we could. This has also enabled us to continue to pay for their health insurance and other benefits and will allow them to retain their seniority with ESA upon their expected return. After allowing staff in closed programs to move to vacant positions in open programs and reassigning staff who couldn't go into homes, the end result was only 71 staff members being furloughed.

After spring break ended, we managed to keep offering AMI and distance learning options to Academy and ACCE students and their families. In addition, we offered remote SET for Success (pre-employment transition) programming via Zoom to school districts. We stood up teletherapy for preschool and Academy students and outpatients, avoiding the furlough of 9 staff to provide those services to individuals in our developmental preschools, Academy and outpatient therapy programs.

Economic Survival of ESA

On the financial survival front, we have reduced spending and cancelled non-essential services. We are also actively exploring loan options authorized under the CARES Act. While it sounded promising at first, it seems most options are designed for small businesses with less than 500 employees. Because we have 550 staff members, we do not qualify for most relief.

Under normal circumstances, our preschools and our adult day program do not get enough Medicaid reimbursement to cover all of their costs. As a result, we must fundraise over $1.3 million each year to make up for the shortfall – mostly through large events like our fashion show, our Arkansan of the Year dinner, and our Walk With Me. However, each of these events are being rescheduled due to the COVID-19 crisis. While we have attempted to do some on-line fundraising, we have not come close to replacing the revenue from these events and are seeking other ways to raise additional funds.

We need your help!  Some simple things you can do right now is to like us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Share and like our posts to help spread the word – especially when we have asks for advocacy or fundraising support.

Health and safety are our utmost concern. To highlight the seriousness of this virus, a volunteer who was scheduled to work at the Fashion Event ended up dying from COVID-19. She was likely contagious and asymptomatic the day of the event where she was scheduled to work the registration table and silent auction. We are forever grateful that we put the health and safety of those we serve, our staff and supporters over economic gain.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to me or the rest of the leadership team by sending us an email to covid19@eastersealsar.com. Stay safe and healthy! We are all in this together.

Heartfelt regards,

Ron Ekstrand
CEO, Easterseals Arkansas

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