Small Business Success: Coping with COVID-19 through new policies, protocols, procedures and people
When COVID-19 upended operations at FamilyWise Behavior Solutions, the Mystic provider of in-home therapy to children with autism remade its business virtually overnight.
One staffer expressed the challenge as building an aircraft in flight.
The March COVID-19 outbreak last year disrupted FamilyWise’s operations — providing in-home therapy to children with autism and in-school consultation — just as schools were shutting. As a result, kids’ classes, special-needs programs, and FamilyWise’s individualized therapy all ceased simultaneously.
In an instant, the structure, consistency, and predictability they need to progress and thrive was stripped away from them. And parents lost the support they depended upon to help their children.
“We are deemed an essential business,” said Cynthia Woodis West, FamilyWise founder and clinical director, “so the state did not shut us down. But most of our clients temporarily suspended services,” wary of having a non-family member come into their homes.
The company had also lost valued professional staff. Some were reluctant to enter the clients’ homes, while others had to leave the workforce to care for their own children who were out of school.
Human Resources Director Rebecca Atkins sought and recruited people who embody what she describes as the organization’s values of compassion and professionalism.
To manage the disruption to families and their business, one of the most important resources that West accessed was the Southeastern Connecticut Chapter of SCORE, a nationwide, nonprofit association and resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration that offers free, confidential advice to small business owners.
Chapter president Frank LaMonaca has been providing counsel since the virus struck, delivering steadying encouragement and practical financial and operations advice, West said.
“The first thing Frank asked me was, ‘Are you all OK?’ Then, we dug into finance and operations. Frank provided guidance on the federal Paycheck Protection Program, including help ensuring the funds were used properly,” she said. “First, we had to reinvent how we protected our staff and our families. After developing stringent safety protocols, more families felt comfortable continuing with in-home services.”
But the biggest change they made was an entirely new approach to serving children. Over the course of just a few weeks, FamilyWise’s team of professionals opened their first clinic. With services limited to one child and one therapist/classroom, they dramatically limited exposure.
“To us, it felt like overnight,” West said. “And we found that children were making gains much faster in the clinic than with in-home sessions alone, so we are opening a second clinic in Salem, Connecticut.”
Like most companies, “we were rocked by COVID-19,” she said, “but we’re back on our feet and
moving forward. We have to. We care deeply about the kids and we’re making a difference for them every day.”
Hugh M. Ryan is a certified mentor for the Southeastern Connecticut chapter of SCORE. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.