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Service provision has been disrupted, but agencies are adapting: Results of Community Solutions’ COVID-19 survey

Emily Campbell
Chief Executive Officer
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May 1, 2020
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The global COVID-19 pandemic, the Stay-at-Home order and social distancing recommendations adopted to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus have presented unprecedented challenges to service providers. Tens of millions of Americans are suddenly unemployed, children across the state are engaged in remote learning and many people are working from home. Nonprofits and government, like other businesses, have rapidly adapted to these strange circumstances.

We gathered 734 responses from a wide range of local government agencies, philanthropic funders, faith-based groups and nonprofits including direct service providers, associations and policy organizations.

Over two weeks in late April, The Center for Community Solutions surveyed groups across Ohio to collect real-time feedback on how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting them. We gathered 734 responses from a wide range of local government agencies, philanthropic funders, faith-based groups and nonprofits including direct service providers, associations and policy organizations.

Key takeaways from the results include:

  • COVID-19 and/or the Stay-at-Home order are causing disruption for the vast majority of Ohio’s service providers. One-in-five are experiencing significant disruption and expect the return to services to be difficult.
  • Medical grade personal protective equipment, and even homemade cloth masks are in short supply, even for those characterized as providing “essential services.” The lack of appropriate supplies could endanger the health of staff and clients.
  • Most agencies have shifted to providing services via telephone or video chat service as many locations are closed to clients. However, many are worried about their ability to reach all those in need. Of particular concern are the 5 percent of respondents who reported that their agencies are closed completely and no services are being delivered. Some of those services may be unable to restart.
  • Service providers are most concerned about the economy in general and the mental health and well being of their clients.This data goes beyond anecdote to provide a window into how front-line organizations and the clients they seek to serve have been impacted on both an economic and service provision level. As described in greater detail below, our survey represents groups both large and small, working in every county in Ohio. They are concentrated in the health and social services sphere, and respondents ranged from front-line workers to CEOs. Taken together, the results of this survey present a snapshot of circumstances service providers are facing at a critical moment.
More than 90 percent, said that COVID-19 and/or the Stay-at-Home order are causing disruption for their agencies.

It is not surprising that the vast majority of respondents, more than 90 percent, said that COVID-19 and/or the Stay-at-Home order are causing disruption for their agencies, and more than half reported that the disruption has been significant. While many expect to bounce back quickly, most concerning are the 1 in 5 respondents who said they expect the return to normal services to be difficult.

In response to this disruption, more than two-thirds of respondents identified at least one way they have adjusted services during the pandemic. As expected, the most common way that respondents have adjusted services is to utilize technology rather than working with clients in-person. Nearly one-third are limiting services, and 24 respondents reported that their agencies are closed completely and providing no services. These include groups that typically provide services through schools, houses of worship, senior centers and camps.

Although utilizing technology and providing services remotely have allowed many agencies to continue to provide some level of service, many individuals expressed concern about being able to reach clients who do not have access to the internet or familiarity with the communications tools being used.

Many individuals identified other changes that have been made, including staff working from home, providing drive-through food or supplies, and keeping some services or locations consistent while having to close or change others. Close to half (47 percent) said that their buildings are closed to clients, and many who provided additional details stated that at least some locations are closed and building access is limited to a small segment of clients.

When asked about what specific impacts COVID-19 and the Stay-at-Home order are having on their agencies, it was most common for groups to have experienced an increase in demand for services and a decrease in the ability to provide those services. While half report no change in staffing levels, about 45 percent of respondents indicated that volunteer availability has decreased, or a decrease is expected. Previous research has found that older adults tend to engage in volunteer activities more frequently, and it is this age group that appears to be at particular risk of becoming seriously ill when infected with the novel coronavirus.

At this point in time, most agencies have not experienced a decrease in either philanthropic or government funding.

At this point in time, most agencies have not experienced a decrease in either philanthropic or government funding, and some even reported increases. On the other hand, almost half have experienced, or expect to experience, an increase in expenses.

Several open-ended responses pointed to an increase in expenses tied to the need to procure personal protective equipment (PPE). Service providers are not immune to the shortages of these supplies. Fewer than 10 percent of those who indicated a need for medical-grade PPE indicated that their staffs and volunteers have it. Even homemade cloth masks seemed to be in short supply. This survey was conducted just before Ohio required all employees wear face coverings and recommended all customers do the same, so the need for these supplies has become even more urgent so agencies can maintain services and follow the recommendations of public health experts.

On the other hand, most individuals had access to most of the workplace policies that are considered to be important to maintain the health of employees, including paid sick leave, mental health counseling via employee assistance programs, and the ability to work from home.

Despite the lack of PPE, survey respondents are more than twice as likely to say they are “very concerned” about the well-being or mental health of their clients rather than their own health and well-being. They were more than four times as likely to be very concerned about the economy in general than their own job security.

Helping agencies adapt is the fact that service providers, for the most part, report being well-informed about policies relating to the COVID-19 response. Only three percent say that they rarely or never receive relevant policy updates to adjust their work and more than 80 percent say they usually or always receive these updates. Most respondents are relying on the State of Ohio and/or Ohio Department of Health for information.

Community Solutions intends to continue analyzing this survey over the coming weeks, providing additional breakdowns focused on certain parts of the state, highlighting differences between agency leadership and front-line workers, and between large and small organizations. There were several open-ended questions, particularly regarding if government policies are helping or hindering the ability of agencies to provide services to Ohioans. Community Solutions staff is currently working on reviewing those responses.

Two-thirds of respondents represented direct service providers, most in social services or health.

Profile of Respondents

This survey was targeted to those associated with organizations and agencies that provide services to Ohioans. Two-thirds of respondents represented direct service providers, most in social services or health. Philanthropic or charitable funders, nonprofit intermediaries, government agencies and educational institutions also participated in the survey. Responses came from across Ohio, from agencies serving residents every county, as well as several state-wide organizations. While the entire state is represented, the pool of respondents leans heavily toward Northeast Ohio, especially Cuyahoga County.

Responses came from groups with fewer than 10 employees, more than 500, and everything in between.

Respondents were most likely to be working at nonprofit agencies. About 30 percent are executive directors, presidents or CEOs, followed by program managers or supervisors (19 percent), administrators (15 percent) and direct service workers (15 percent).

The agencies they represent are varied. Responses came from groups with fewer than 10 employees, more than 500, and everything in between. Likewise, the populations they serve run the gamut.

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