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Nonprofit Social Innovation Hub: Jewish Family & Children’s Service accelerated their telehealth transformation

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Nonprofit Social Innovation Hub: Jewish Family & Children’s Service accelerated their telehealth transformation

by Troy Hill, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation

September 22, 2021

Much like many of the nonprofit and philanthropic services worldwide, Jewish Family & Children’s Service faced many difficulties and uncertainty this past year because of COVID-19. However, due to their willingness to innovate and embrace new technological possibilities within their organization, JFCS was able to persevere and continue to serve over 40,000 individuals in the Phoenix area.

Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JFCS) is a Valley-based nonprofit that “strengthens the community by providing behavioral health, healthcare and social services to all ages, faiths and backgrounds,” said Gail Baer, JFCS’s vice president of philanthropic services. Some of those services include integrated healthcare, services for children and families, older adults, youth aging out of foster care, and services specific to the Jewish community in Phoenix.

“Things changed overnight,” said Baer. “We had needs that we just didn't anticipate, and I think the best example that I can give is our behavioral health and healthcare [services]. With the shutdown, suddenly our clients weren't able to come in person, and that's a large part of what we do.”

Fortunately, their strategic plan included the groundwork for implementing telehealth, but it was not scheduled to be implemented until 2022.

“It was in our vision, we just had to accelerate it. You know, overnight, practically,” she said. “That involved a lot of equipment, a lot of licensing, a lot of software, hardware. [We had] the building blocks of that, we had the basics of it, but not to the scale that we needed to to properly serve all of our folks.”

But these setbacks did not stop JFCS. Within a couple of weeks, the organization was able to implement a telehealth infrastructure so that the community could be engaged once again, remotely. And they found a silver lining within the new telehealth infrastructure: an increase in the percentage of people who showed up to their scheduled appointments.

“What we realized is that having this option of a virtual platform removes a lot of the barriers that our clients face just day to day, in getting to our clinics,” said Baer. “Specifically transportation, child care, elder care–all of those can prevent someone from making an appointment. So, we've seen our rate of showing up for appointments really increased dramatically, which is terrific, because now our community is getting the care that they need.”

Because of this, JFCS plans on keeping telehealth as an option indefinitely.

Much of the population that JFCS serves is already vulnerable, and another issue arose as widespread job loss befell the community. “There was an almost immediate issue with just getting basic needs met,” said Baer.

Fortunately, they received almost immediate help and support from the community. People began calling in and asking what could be done to help out. In response to this, a donor fund was set up.

“What we really needed was financial support, because things were changing so much–really on a daily basis–that we just needed the flexibility to be able to either provide financial assistance, emergency food, extra emergency shelter, or whatever our clients needed,” Baer said. “Fortunately our community responded very generously [and] immediately to them.”

JFCS also provided services to clients, some of whom were Holocaust survivors, so that they could get vaccinated, including scheduling appointments and transporting them to the vaccination sites.

Baer said that, because of her experiences during the pandemic, she has become more flexible as a person and as a leader.

“Initially, it was out of necessity, but what I realized is I have an incredible team that's not only reaching their goals, but beating their goals, working in a way we never expected to work. So I'm very interested in maintaining that energy, and, and keeping them satisfied and happy with how we are working in this new way.”