Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Changes to Westchester Library homebound program clarified

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By LILY REX

A story on the front page of the Friday, Nov. 16 issue of the Chesterton Tribune titled, “Changes proposed for library homebound program,” contained two inaccurate statements, a reader informed the Chesterton Tribune Tuesday.

The Chesterton Tribune regrets the errors and did a follow-up story making those corrections and clarifying the status of WPL’s Homebound program.

The Chesterton Tribune spoke with Ellen Adams, who was formerly a Homebound Coordinator, the job title reserved for two library employees who curate lists of materials for patrons in WPL’s Homebound Program, then deliver and collect the materials. The Homebound Program serves 28 patrons who are unable to get to the Library due to reasons including limited mobility or lack of transportation.

The Chesterton Tribune also sat down with WPL Director Lisa Stamm to clarify the issues.

Adams said she resigned after eight years in her position, effective Nov. 30, in part due to changes Stamm has instituted to the Homebound program.

Background

The WPL Board of Trustees deliberated for an hour on the way the Homebound program should operate at its Nov. 8 meeting, where it weighed the immense value the program provides to its patrons and the potential risks Homebound Coordinators face when they enter those patrons’ residences after Stamm reported that WPL’s insurance agent, Anton, confirmed that the Homebound employees are not covered under WPL’s liability or worker’s compensation insurance when they enter private property while on the job.

Stamm’s suggested solution was to end the practice of Homebound employees going into patrons’ homes. Based on the insurance gaps and how other libraries run similar programs, she suggested that the personal relationships developed between the employees and patrons would be best cultivated over the phone. In addition to the employees no longer going into homes, Stamm implemented a buddy system, so the two employees were running deliveries together. If that wasn’t possible, another Library staffer who had time went along.

The final decision of how to run the Homebound program rests with the Board--not with Stamm--but at the end of the meeting, the Board elected to stick with the changes Stamm suggested. The Board did advise she send a letter to the Homebound patrons explaining the change in service, which she did on Nov. 20.

Corrections

The Nov. 16 article described the practice of Homebound employees going into patrons’ homes to have conversations as a “habit” they had developed, but it was, in fact always part of the job, according to both Adams and Stamm.

Adams said that the Homebound employees were told when hired that the program was about bringing not just materials, but also the library experience to patrons who were unable to visit the Library and might experience isolation due to being homebound. That meant talking with patrons rather than just picking up and dropping off items.

Stamm confirmed that, saying the Homebound employees, despite not having a written job description, “were told they were handpicked for this job for their personalities, and they were handpicked to bring the Library into homes” when the program launched. She said the program was always about more than just providing materials.

The Nov. 16 article also said that part of the insurance issues stemmed from the Homebound employees driving their own cars when delivering and not using the Library van, which was purchased with their program in mind. Both Adams and Stamm said the van was not purchased for the Homebound program. The van is communal among the different departments of the Library, most often used by maintenance, according to Stamm.

Perspectives

Stamm, for her part, said she approached the program with the intent to assess its structure and not with any ideas to change it, but what she found worried her. The two employees didn’t have a written job description.

“I couldn’t find any kind of job description. I asked them if they were ever given a job description and they said no,” Stamm said. Her first step was to write one, but the insurance issue still loomed.

Adams disagreed with phrasing in the Nov. 16 article that equated the lack of a written job description for Homebound Coordinators to a “lack of guidance.” Her response: “We’ve always been well-guided. There’s never been a lack of guidance. We’ve always been pretty clear on what we were supposed to do.”

Adams--who has volunteered at the Library since 2001 in addition to working as a Homebound Coordinator--said she has served WPL so long for a reason. “I love the Library, basically, and I love the atmosphere.”

Adams disagrees with the change to the program on the grounds that it negatively impacts the patrons, especially patrons who have items delivered to them at care facilities.

“We can’t go into rooms at nursing homes, and that means the nursing home staff have to collect books. That’s them doing our job for us,” Adams said.

Adams continued, “They were saying we could use phone calls as a method of communication. A lot of nursing home residents don’t have a phone, so that doesn’t help them.”

Stamm said she was torn and lost sleep over the decision to tell the employees not to go into patrons’ homes or private care facility rooms anymore. “I understand the importance of the relationships. I really do,” she said. “The whole thing was just to make sure everybody was covered and safe, including the Library.”

Stamm clarified, however, that her decision had nothing to do with thinking that either the employees or the patrons were suddenly in danger or that anything about the program’s day-to-day operation was being managed improperly. “In absolutely no way did I or anyone ever think that our Homebound employees were ‘getting away with’ something or doing wrong by the Library. That was never a question,” she said.

“The Homebound service that our two employees provided was excellent, and in no way were they ever doing anything that they hadn’t been told to do when the program was developed,” Stamm continued. “They did, and still do, a great job in selecting materials and learning about patrons’ likes and dislikes.”

Adams recognized Stamm’s point of view, saying that Homebound employees entering patrons’ homes is in fact a liability that should be addressed. However, she disagreed that the insurance gap was an urgent enough issue to warrant the change. “It’s not like I don’t understand that the library may be liable for things, but there have not been any incidents in the eight years I’ve been involved with it.”

Stamm said providing materials to homebound patrons is very important to her and to WPL, but maintains that employees delivering alone and going into residences is risky.

“That is absolutely not saying that the patrons we serve would do something harmful to staff. I never thought that and never suggested it,” Stamm said. “What it comes down to is that no one knows who else might be inside of a home or if an accident or health emergency might occur, or any number of other potentially unsafe situations.”

Adams said WPL’s track record of serving the public is a “source of pride,” saying that she thinks the change to the Homebound program is uncharacteristic. “The Library has long stood for this kind of community service, and this just seems kind of cold to me, like it’s not the same goal as when I started volunteering in 2001.”

Adams hope for the program: “I really hope the Library can continue the program as it was intended, with modifications to cover the Library.”

As for the program’s status, Stamm’s Nov. 20 letter to the program’s patrons states that WPL will not go the way of other libraries and send materials to homebound patrons by mail. WPL will “continue to have staff members personally deliver materials as long as we have the capacity to do so.”

Stamm continued in the letter that Homebound patrons are valued, engaged patrons of WPL, and wrote “We will continue to personally work with patrons to select interesting and enjoyable materials. We will continue to drive those materials right to patrons’ homes. We will continue to communicate with patrons about materials, primarily on the phone.”

 

 

Posted 12/6/2018

 
 
 
 

 

 

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