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Are there silver linings to the pandemic?

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/4/2020 6:34:00 PM
Modified: 11/4/2020 6:33:49 PM

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of life for people of all ages, and many have experienced some level of tragedy, uncertainty, and stress over the months since the state of emergency came to New Hampshire.

 “These are very strange times, and it is a little difficult to think about the silver linings,” The River Center Executive Director Margaret Nelson said. Nelson was one of seven community leaders the Ledger-Transcript approached to discuss the potential for bright spots in the mass changes the pandemic has brought to our way of life.

Virtual meetups

Whether for medicine, community programming, church, or employment, there are some undeniable perks of virtual meetups. “There’s going to be a certain amount of, “Don’t ever tell me you’re setting up a Zoom meeting again, ever,”” Nelson said, and that, of course, some people will always prefer to meet in person when they can. But, there’s an appeal in the prospect of being able to tune in from home when weather or inertia may otherwise keep a person from taking off their slippers or stepping away from their woodstove to attend a program they’re interested in, she said. The River Center has long dealt with the realities of busy families with busy parents who can’t commit to physically attending a group meeting, Nelson said, and the continued legacy of virtual meetings might help with that.

Families too have found creative ways to connect, Nelson said, by playing Pictionary and games over video calls to stay connected despite geographic separation. “Now we’ve all become more adept at that,” she said, and can employ those skills going forward.

Virtual meetings are lowering the barrier to entry for people who struggle to connect face to face due to anxiety or have transportation issues, Melissa Gallagher, CEO of Grapevine Family and Community Resource Center in Antrim said. “We weren’t as video focused before COVID hit as we are now,” she said, but they now see its advantages in serving certain community members.

“Once the church got shut down, we went to Facebook Live and that has just been amazing,” Rev. Dan Osgood of the Greenfield Congregational Covenant Church said. 200 to 250 people are tuning into services that drew 40 or 50 people in person prior to the pandemic, he said, and the church has received donations from its virtual visitors.

The hospital had started to work on telehealth but were never able to carry it out before the pandemic, CEO Cynthia McGuire said. It’s been a popular success and likely to continue, she said: 30 percent of office visits are still being done via telemedicine even as the hospital has reopened for non-emergency visits, she said. iPad-equipped paramedics and a nurse practitioner have been going out into patients’ residences in the region’s long-term care facilities, rather than bringing them up to the hospital, McGuire said – another practice likely to continue.

Initially, MCH eschewed walk-in radiology and lab appointments for a scheduling system this year because they wanted to keep patients from sitting in waiting rooms and potentially being exposed to COVID-19, McGuire said, but they’re keeping the scheduled appointments going after it proved popular among patients and led to a smoother flow of traffic. MCH plans to expand the centralized scheduling system for other kinds of appointments, she said.

Southwestern Community Services is one organization that sees a future in flexible, work-from-home opportunities thanks to the pandemic. “I relish it,” CEO John Manning said, and despite some managers’ initial misgivings, flexibile work arrangements have proved feasible, and could continue to be a part of employees’ futures. As a nonprofit, SCS can only offer so much pay to its 150 employees across Cheshire and Sullivan Counties, Manning said, but they can make employment more attractive if they can offer flexibility: work from home, alternating Fridays off, anything to fit the job around an employee’s life. “Those are things people have wanted, but now we’re seeing it works,” he said.

Community support

“People are opening up and being more generous and sharing what they have,” Osgood said. The food donations basket at the Greenfield Post Office is regularly overflowing with goods, he said, and he’s working with a donor to distribute more than 40 brand new children’s winter coats, along with hats, boots, and mittens.  “There have certainly been real blessings in the midst of all of this,” he said.

 “I think we’ve seen in our community an outpouring of people just saying, “What can I do?”” Nelson said, and she hopes the spirit that compelled people to sew masks and shop for seniors continues into the future. “It’d be great to think that we won’t forget some of these things that we learned,” she said.

The donations and collaborations the community brought to the hospital made there be “no questions” that the MCH will recover from the impacts of the pandemic, VP of Philanthropy and Community Relations Laura Gingras said. The pandemic caused Monadnock Community Hospital staff to meet some community leaders for the first time, McGuire said, and strengthened their ties to the community. MCH’s Chief Finance Officer Richard Scheinblum served on ConVal’s reopening committee, she said. The weekly meetings with Peterborough and its long term care and assisted living facilities improved the way the hospital cares for those patients, she said, and she could see those kinds of meetings continuing into the future. Daily calls with the region’s hospitals strengthened those ties as well, McGuire said. “Together we are working… to make sure whoever can provide the best care is the one that is going to provide it,” she said. 

“Parents are in a position where they are willingly asking for help,” Gallagher said, and are being met with a community of other parents ready to support them. “For a lot of people, it’s hard to ask for help. A bit of that has been shed,” she said, due to the extraordinary situations families are in. More people know about the Grapevine’s programs now, she said, and they’re happy to adjust to parents’ new needs as they relate to their children’s behavior and home learning.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for universal healthcare, Manning said, and the importance of healthcare workers as well as lower paid essential workers, including emergency first responders, teachers, and grocery store workers. He hopes those professionals continue to receive the support they deserve.

“I don’t think anybody is going to take public education for granted,” Nelson said, the privilege to drop children off at school where they’re cared for by a person who’s chosen teaching for a vocation. “It is my hope, anyway, that we will realize that,” she said. There’s certainly room for gratitude for other things we took for granted, she said, like the simplicity of visiting a store without having to fish around for a mask or perform a sanitizing, social distancing ritual.


“People are getting out more and walking, finding social connections in ways we had not really thought about like walking in park and meeting new people,” Monadnock Developmental Services Family Education and Support Coordinator Marylouise Alther said, noting that it’s continued to be difficult for housebound people. People have adopted a lot of rescue pets and Alther said she sees a benefit in adding that kind of joy to life. She also appreciates the creativity she’s seen in MDS’s teachers and direct service people in their work with clients, and hopes those strategies continue after the pandemic.

MCH staff have also risen to the challenge, McGuire said. “Our clinicians and doctors have been engaged at a whole different level,” she said, learning new jobs, making decisions and designing new processes. “As a leader, that’s something you really marvel at seeing. I’m very proud of them all.”

Family members are discovering things about one another for the first time, Nelson said, as well as themselves. “Some folks are choosing, for instance, to homeschool, and are discovering that they love it. There are gonna be those kinds of personal silver linings,” she said.

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