Chesterton Tribune



Former homebound coordinators address Westchester Library board

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The Westchester Public Library Board continued to discuss changes to the Homebound program at its meeting Thursday.

At its November meeting, the Board deliberated for an hour after Library Director Lisa Stamm proposed changing the Homebound program, where Library materials are delivered to patrons who can’t get out much. Stamm’s suggested Library employees no longer go into the patrons’ homes due to liability concerns after finding out that WPL’s insurance doesn’t cover employees while they are on private property. Stamm proposed that the relationships Homebound Coordinators have with homebound patrons should be cultivated over the phone. Under her changes, the program stays intact and still involves Library employees physically delivering materials, though some libraries run similar programs through the mail.

Two former Homebound Coordinators attended Thursday’s meeting to talk about the importance of the program. First up was Ellen Adams, who quit effective Nov. 30 in part due to Stamm’s change to the program.

“I just wanted to let everybody know how much the homebound program has meant to the patrons I’ve talked to over the last few years. It’s the visits that are most important, not just delivering the services,” Adams said.

Adams said the Homebound Program takes pressure off family members as well as comforting patrons. She also raised the issue again that the patrons in nursing homes may not have access to a phone. Either way, Adams isn’t a fan of phone calls replacing the visits. “Phones are not very personal, its rather impersonal,” she said.

Adams ended by renewing her concerns that she previously told the Chesterton Tribune--she recognizes the presence of liability, but thinks there are other ways to address it. “Whoever the future Homebound people are, I really hope you can reinstate the visits.”

Next was Ken Keller, who recalled that the Library Board, not any of the Library staff, were the driving force in forming the Homebound program. Keller said there was an interruption in service to the Homebound patrons when Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt, and it was the Board that brought it back after that. “I think it was put down until 2006,” Keller said. “Then the Board stepped in, assessed the situation, and said it’s time to bring it back.”

Keller said he enjoyed working in the program. “The 12 years I spent in it were very rewarding. I can simply say I think it’s a very valuable program.”

“You’ve had a big part in the history of this and a big part of it up until this moment,” Keller said. “I understand the legal concerns, but I think there’s ways to address those concerns.”

After the comments, the Board briefly discussed another matter before Board member Michele Corazzo started discussion on the comments and the November decision. “I just think that we decided things very quickly. I guess I would have liked to have pause to think it over. I don’t know the right answer, but I just felt like it was a little hurried,” Corazzo said.

Board Secretary Nick Tilden, for his part, said he thought the discussion at last month’s meeting was very thorough. Tilden said he thought the conclusion was, “We hate to change such a successful and impactful program, but ultimately decided that there was no real way around it.”

Board President Rondi Wightman said, “The personal piece of it is evident on both sides. It’s made an emotional impact on everybody involved, and I recognize that.”

Board member Kathy Cochran looked at the changes from a different angle, praising Stamm’s work. “I think we actually got a particular kind of attention from our director that is somewhat rare and has been kind of a constant since Lisa got here. It’s very difficult for someone in a new position to do what Lisa has done, jumping right in and reviewing the policies of an institution that’s been active for so long.”

Cochran continued, saying that she wouldn’t rule out the possibility of situations changing, but for now she thinks changing the program was wise.

Wightman agreed, noting that Stamm’s decision was informed by research. Stamm confirmed: “Any places that have something similar, they’re not doing it. Volunteers are doing it.”

Board Vice-president Michael Livovich said it was “awful” that the practice of visiting with the Homebound patrons has to end, but he thinks that the program went above and beyond the Library’s mission. Though Livovich offered, “I’m wondering about those volunteer programs and the shape of those.”

Livovich said, though the Library might have more liability issues to explore if volunteers delivered materials, there is no harm in researching the possibility. “If there are libraries that have volunteers that do that, its worth exploring those programs. It may not be possible here, but I think it’s worth exploring.”

Stamm said other libraries will sometimes run homebound programs through their Friends of the Library groups if they have a lot of volunteers. Unfortunately, the WPL Friends President has just retired, and the Thomas Branch Manager is guiding the group and working on ways to develop the membership in the meantime.

Board member Abbe Trent didn’t want to give up on the volunteer idea entirely. She wondered if there are other organizations WPL could partner with and said she would ask around to see if any groups from Valparaiso may be interested.

Wightman said she feels like the Board’s hands are tied: “It’s hard because our hearts want to make it happen, and we just cannot.”



Posted 12/17/2018




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