The Cape May County Department of Human Services is a key point of contact for thousands of residents. Leadership worked quickly to figure out how essential services could be provided in the wake of social distancing regulations during the height of the pandemic in March 2020. Human Services encompasses many different divisions including Aging and Disability, Community and Behavioral Health Services, Social Services, and Veterans’ Services. The number of individuals allowed in the office had to be reduced according to the Governor’s orders. Cape May County Commissioner Jeff Pierson quickly worked with the leadership throughout Human Services, including Director Donna Groome, to come up with a plan for rotating in-office staff and remote work to ensure social distancing mandates could be met, but the important work of the office would not fall behind.
As staff came back physically to work in the building: all workspaces were modified to be at least six feet from another workspace, additional cubicle barriers were put into place when necessary, plexiglass barriers were installed where necessary, disinfecting supplies were added to each unit and or divisions’ space, in-person meetings transitioned to Zoom or conference calls, and bio blasting was conducted weekly. Staff was oriented to provide them with information regarding policies such as daily temperature checks, weekly COVID 19 questionnaires, etc. The common areas of the building were shut down. Positivity rates in the state and county were monitored and when necessary, physical building capacity was adjusted with remote work schedules being put back into place when and where necessary. Currently, 100% of the staff are physically working in a socially distanced environment.
“We have a great team within our Department of Human Services,” said Groome. “Everyone came together to find solutions to help our County residents. Commissioner Pierson has said he was amazed by the quick and selfless action of the entire Department upon implementing the standards established for the health and safety of all. We will continue to do everything in our power to provide the best services to everyone in Cape May County going forward.”
While consumers were given opportunities to apply for benefits online, via telephone, or with paper applications; consumers were still permitted to present to the building in a socially distanced way. Signs with all division and unit phone numbers, websites, emails, etc. were posted in the reception area, as well as cards with the same information given out at the front reception. Reception glass separated staff and consumers. The use of the mail slot was encouraged; however, consumers were permitted to drop off documentation to the receptionist. Anyone needing to PIN an EBT card or consumers that were homeless and unable to apply for services online were permitted inside the building to apply via phone.
“We know that some of our residents rely on the services provided in our various divisions under Human Services,” said Pierson. “As a result, it was imperative we find a safe way to continue to provide these resources. No one could have predicted the challenges we would face. But I am proud of our entire team, especially our Director Donna Groome, who worked quickly to get our staff back online promptly and allowing work to continue.”
When all four-county operated senior centers closed in March 2020, participants of the senior centers have either been transitioned to receive Home Delivered Meals or those that drive to the centers are able to pick up a Grab and Go meal at two of the four centers. Check-in calls from center staff to participants are conducted. Additionally, activity bags have been provided to center participants. Home Delivered Meals, Meals on Wheels, has been operating through-out the COVID 19 crisis, with staff and volunteer drivers taking precautions such as daily temperature checks, masks, gloves, and social distancing. All mitigation protocols are utilized to protect both the staff and our meals recipients. In the early vaccination process, the Division also partnered with the Cape May County Department of Health to reach out to Aging participants that were 75 and older to discuss and help schedule their vaccinations.
“I have been amazed seeing the quick reactions and great work done by the entire team within Human Services,” said Cape May County Commissioner Director Gerald M. Thornton. “Before I became Commissioner Director, I oversaw the departments Commissioner Pierson does so I can say with firsthand experience that everyone involved has done a tremendous job. I want to give a ton of credit to Commissioner Pierson, Donna Groome, and the entire staff.”
If anyone needs services related to the Department of Human Services reach out to the following:
Social Services please call (609) 886-6200
State Health Insurance Program (SHIP-Medicare enrollment) please call (609) 886-8138
Adult Protective Services please call (609) 886-2784
Home Delivered Meals Program please call (609) 886-2784
All other services and/or questions please call (609) 886-2784
Division of Veterans’ Services for personalized assistance benefit assistance or to obtain information on the Gerald M. Thornton Veterans Cemetery at (609) 886-2763. Anyone with extenuating circumstances that are unable to be assisted via telephone or email may be accommodated with an in-person interview by appointment.
If you have questions pertaining to Community and Behavioral Health Services please call (609) 465-1055.