Michele Malone is skilled at the art of small gestures.

As the Director of Social Services at Cluster House, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Michele assists in keeping the site running, but she also busies herself with a many things that are, in truth, far from trivial: decorating the residence for holidays, stocking candy for spontaneous distribution, and, on one occasion, securing a blanket for a client who had none.

“I was born to do this sort of work,” says Michele, who holds an LMSW degree and has worked in social services roles since graduating high school. “It’s always an adventure.”

In more prosaic terms, her job consists of supervising four Case Managers and a Licensed Practical Nurse in relation to myriad client matters at Cluster House. She ensures that clients meet weekly with Case Managers who document their medical, mental health, and housing histories; checks that the facility is up to standard; and organizes social groups and health education workshops in compliance with coronavirus guidelines. Michele also handles unplanned events that occur, from client disputes to medical and psychiatric emergencies requiring calls to EMS.

Michele notes that while some outpatient clinics offer telehealth services, a fair number of clients either lack access to the requisite devices to access these services or are technologically challenged. In addition, the surplus of free time occasioned by the pandemic has been challenging for clients to fill, at times affecting their mental well-being.

Still, the folks at Cluster House in particular are a resilient crew. Case Managers meet with clients regularly over Zoom, and the Program Director also meets on site with clients about their feelings and circumstances. Safety remains a priority: gloves, masks, sanitizer, and safety education have been the norm at all Urban Pathways facilities since the beginning of the pandemic. Of particular delight to Michele is the camaraderie of the staff. “We recently threw a bridal shower for our Program Director,” she says. “We celebrate holidays and other events like family.”

That those connections persist despite the physical distance imposed by the pandemic is testament to the strength of those bonds. But of course, it’s not only staff members who now contend with separation: clients are disconnected from their health providers, case managers, and—perhaps most significantly—the steadying comfort of familiar routine.

“Organization leadership has really concerned themselves with the health of clients and staff alike,” Michelle says. “They’ve also been flexible with regard to remote work.” And Michele, who is concerned for her personal health, is quite grateful for that.

By Urban Pathways on January 07, 2021