With the Corona Virus pandemic threatening the health of individuals worldwide, tough decisions have had to be made at the local level. Last week, the town manager made the decision to cut 80% of library staff, including four full-time employees and four part-time employees. There are two part-time town-paid employees that have been furloughed from the senior center and three part-time grant-paid employees that have been laid off. According to Town Manager Austin Faison, the staffing changes are temporary and have been implemented due to the building closures that have been enforced as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19.
“These positions are not being eliminated and, in most cases, the affected employees had not been able to go to work since the early spring due to the closure of the buildings they work in,” said Faison.
The town will continue to pay the affected employees until their furloughs become effective on July 1. They will immediately be eligible for unemployment compensation, including the extra federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits.
“These staffing changes are temporary and the impacted employees will be guaranteed the opportunity to resume their roles if and when circumstances allow them to safely fulfill their responsibilities. These decisions are ones that we did not make lightly and that were discussed with all the parties involved, however; we are not immune to the financial ramifications of this pandemic and the effects of the last few months have caused us to reconsider and adapt various parts of the town’s budget. This has been an unprecedented time not just for Winthrop, but for communities across the nation and globe. We will be continuously monitoring the situation and have made it a priority to bring these employees back on board as soon as we can.”
Following the announcement of the layoffs, several residents grew vocal about the possible impact these cuts could have on the town.
“Why are we cutting services for the elderly in both the library and senior center instead of reimagining how to serve their needs in this time of COVID,” said Katrina Donovan, previous part-time library employee.
While the remaining staffers at the library (Diane Wallace and Mary Lou Osborne) and Senior Center (Kathy Dixon and Matt Rhodes) are tasked with exploring unique ways that the departments can provide services to the community, some residents don’t believe that cutting ties to staff members will be beneficial to both library patrons of all ages and the senior community.
Resident and Geriatric Social Worker, Stephanie Recchia, weighed in on the situation.
“Without a senior center or library, this has left our elders without any social stimulation or active engagement. In the past few years, there has been an abundance of scientific research on the physical and mental detriments of social isolation and loneliness in elders. Isolation and loneliness leads to depression, complicated complex medical diagnosis, and higher mortality levels in older adults. Being in a chronic state of loneliness leads to a chronic stress state inducing a physiological response, including elevated blood pressure. Recent data shows that social isolation can be deadly as cardiac disease, and in fact, can be a precursor to it. I am in no way advocating for an unsafe opening or groups of older adults congregating at this time, given the age demographic of over 65 is at high risk for serious COVID complications if they contract the virus. I do believe there are solutions in creativity and collaboration in order to meet the needs of our town’s elders, including Zoom book group discussions, webinar series, curbside pickup, or even “friendly visit “phone calls to talk books or current events. Many elders are using technology. Virtual groups would be of great benefit to the physical and mental health of elders during a prolonged period of isolation due to pandemic. Many towns are successfully lending books, DVDs, audio books, and other materials via curbside pre-orders. We can do better by our elders (and all community members) and we should.”
According to Faison, the Town of Winthrop will continue to provide services from the library and senior center, with limited staff. Meals on Wheels will continue to operate, and residents who are in need and are not currently on the list to receive meals through the program can email [email protected] or call (617) 539-5848.
Residents are still able to utilize the online library services, which can be found on the library’s website: https://www.winthroppubliclibrary.org/
“I am very concerned for the safety of both the employees and all our seniors at the center, said Kathy Dixon, Director of the Council on Aging at the Senior Center. “This is very near and dear to my heart as I lost my Father to COVID-19 back in April. We are working on ideas that will be beneficial and entertaining for our seniors here in town. I encourage ideas and suggestions. We hope this will not be a long term situation as it is very important for all of us to have a healthy and meaningful social existence. I wish for all citizens in the town of Winthrop and everywhere, please stay safe.”