The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

Coronavirus: Technology makes up for loss of face-to-face operations for Caritas

Shona Berger Wednesday, 8 April 2020, 07:28 Last update: about 3 months ago

Due to the Coronavirus outbreak in Malta and the measures taken to reduce the spread of the virus, many sectors have seen drastic changes in the way they operate.

But it is not just economic sectors that have been impacted. NGOs and voluntary organisations have also been hit. A spokesperson on behalf of Caritas – Marica Cassar - spoke to The Malta Independent about the number of changes that have been made, and how they have had to adapt due to the current situation in the country.

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“Caritas Malta’s head office is situated on the second floor of the Archbishop’s Curia. On 21 March, it was announced that all employees who work in this building were to start working from home as the Curia was closed,” Cassar said.

She said that “the Church was very proactive in advocating for social distancing and working from home early on in the outbreak. This meant that Caritas could not meet the day-to-day clients face-to-face, due to the fact that our offices were shut down as well.”

This did not mean that Caritas stopped helping people in need.

“We increased our telephone lines so that those in need of support can still speak to us if they feel anxious, lonely, or are struggling in some way or another, including with their basic needs,” Cassar said.

She added that due to the crisis, Caritas has set up a number of alternative methods through which people who are seeking help can get in touch. “We have announced four numbers administered by a social worker, psychologist, psychotherapist and youth worker. An email address was also created for people who prefer to use this medium to ask for support. In addition, through coordination with parishes, we have people on the ground taking the necessary measures and delivering food to those who are in need. One can also get in touch with Caritas Malta through our website https://www.caritasmalta.org/.”

Since face-to-face interaction is currently unavailable, Cassar said that “when a person contacts Caritas on one of the numbers provided - either regular cases or new clients - we speak to them and try to address their needs as best we can.” She added that sometimes there are cases where the client would want therapy, thus in such cases if the client is technologically equipped, they are also communicating via webcam.

“Many of our clients suffer from loneliness and solitude, thus we have been in contact with most of those who attend different support groups offered by Caritas, as ultimately a simple phone call to these clients means a lot.”

But Caritas also runs other facilities, such as a live-in drug rehabilitation centre. Cassar said that “besides the measures announced by the authorities, Caritas is taking all the necessary health measures to safeguard both their clients and those who are providing their service.” She added that “there has been a significant increase in terms of preventive procedures including hand washing, the use of gloves, temperature taking for whoever enters the community, temperature reading of residents two or three times a day and the decision to stop all visits, including non-essential visits by staff or volunteers.”

“We are taking everything into account and planning contingencies, such as a full lockdown if we get to a point where this is required to safeguard residents.” She added that, to make up for the pain of not being able to receive visits from their families, online video calls are being organised for the residents. “This is very reassuring for both the residents and their families.”

In terms of the consultation services which Caritas provides to their clients, Cassar said that “known clients have had their sessions continue through online systems or through phone calls.” She added that “apart from our head office, this also applies to our outreach and community services which are the first port of call for individuals with a drug use or drug dependency problem, and for their families.”

Cassar remarked that apart from the residential communities, a major challenge regards the stabilisation and detoxification of clients, “but under such circumstances admission has been limited.”

Some clients who have a drug problem and also fear contracting the virus have had to stay at home, she said. Cassar explained that for these people, such a situation “might have a positive effect as they would avoid going out to places that could be risky for them, but it can also be negative, as there are those who might feel desperate as their plans for being admitted to a programme have to be postponed.”

Technology has played an important role in helping many people during this troubling period. “With the aid of technology, we are still able to offer our services with the difference that no face-to-face human contact is required.”

Cassar said: “We are very thankful for having a number of generous benefactors who have been very committed in their support to Caritas, and its work with vulnerable people.”

She said that in response to the COVID-19 situation, Caritas has had a number of companies ask them how they can help vulnerable persons. “The coronavirus has had a huge impact on several sectors in our country, thus we envisage that donations can be impacted, however we are also very much aware that Malta has always shown generosity and solidarity in response to the cry of those in need.”

With regards to the chain of drug rehabilitation services “Caritas has received support from the government for a significant part of its operations. However, as an organisation it fully depends on benefactors and donations in order to maintain the seven centres around Malta,” she said. “It also depends on donations for the provision of social work, social support, counselling, prevention, the Employee Assistance Programme and advocacy services which are based at our head office.”

The outbreak of the virus in Malta and the necessary measures which had to be taken in order to safeguard its citizens, could lead a number of people experiencing a negative impact on their mental health. Cassar said that “there is the risk that we might have some families end up homeless and individuals who struggle to make ends meet as their salaries have been drastically decreased.”

“On a positive note, the authorities have shown that they are trying their best to help those passing through this trauma.” Cassar appealed to the government to prioritise the most vulnerable, as this situation is impacting not just one’s health, but also affecting the mental health of those struggling at the moment and who fear what comes next.”

Cassar said that Caritas is still doing its utmost to help those in need. People who are struggling with drug use and dependence can call on 21237935, 21238090 or 79990062.

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