The Wildwood Programs, which offers a number of services for people living with developmental disabilities in New York’s Capital Region, has named a new CEO. Lou Deepe, the organization’s chief operational officer, will take over for the retiring Mary Ann Allen at the start of 2021.
Allen has led the Latham-based company, which has an annual budget of $38 million, since 2001.
WAMC’s Jim Levulis spoke with Deepe.
Deepe: So Wildwood Programs provide supports to people with disabilities and their families in the Capital Region. So we have a significant school program for students aged five to 21. Where we contract with districts throughout the region. And we also have a wide variety of services and supports for adults, such as residential supports, day supports, employment, pre vocational supports, and so forth. So we really have a variety of supports, and we try to build a continuum that really stretches the entire age span.
Levulis: How have your programs been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Deepe: In many ways. So in terms of the COVID crisis, you know, many of the people that we support have multiple underlying health conditions. And so they're very vulnerable to this pandemic, and so we've had to take extraordinary steps to try to keep people safe. Limiting any visitors, trying to keep staff to one site and not having any crossover, being very careful about any community exposures or outings. So from that standpoint, we've had to really kind of be very careful about their health and safety, which we have a tremendous workforce. So I have to say that they, you know, despite whatever anxieties or fears people may be having in their own personal lives, you know, Wildwood’s workforce has really stepped up and done amazing things to ensure that people stay healthy and safe by coming to work every day and putting their own maybe, you know, personal feelings aside and doing whatever needed to be done and being as flexible as possible. We've had a lot of, you know, obviously program closures. So we're taking a huge financial hit because of this crisis. For a while the state had instituted what they call the retainer day program, which is kind of a safety net for providers to ensure that the levels of income we were used to prior to the pandemic stayed in place for the duration. And we've so we were able to keep staff, you know, staffing levels whole, that unfortunately, recently has gone away. And so, you know, I think that providers are, you know, are trying to navigate that, that now and making difficult decisions about programs and services. You know, we've had a lot of unplanned, unbudgeted expenses. I mean, if you think about all of the personal protective equipment that agencies like Wildwood have had to purchase. We've had to do that. We've had a lot of unintended or unbudgeted in overtime costs that have hit us because you know, if they're, unfortunately there are a number of staff that, for whatever various personal reasons, you know, cannot come into these environments at this time just because of their own personal health reasons. So there's a lot of ways that we've been impacted. And it's made, you know, business as usual, very challenging.
Levulis: And with those financial and programming challenges as the incoming CEO, what does that mean for you? What's on your docket kind of once you take the helm, and I understand you still have a current position with Wildwood, so what does that mean for the leadership team over there?
Deepe: So I mean, it's you know the biggest challenge I think it really any of us have faced in navigating this because you have the pandemic, but you also have that paired with, you know, the current New York State fiscal crisis. And then, you know, rumors of impending cuts, which would just be devastating. You know, because we've already experienced several years of very few if any, you know, rate increases as it was. So we were already on kind of razor thin margins. But that's what's in front of you. I mean, it's a leadership team. And we're so lucky, I guess, to have such a great leadership team here at Wildwood. And to have such a great board of directors to guide us through this time. You know, you try not to get too far ahead, you deal with what's in front of you, you know, dealing with the crisis and you know, keeping people, their needs in front of you the entire time. That's what you focus on and trying to ensure that we have a stable and satisfied workforce. Those are kind of our overarching goals and you don't lose sight of your values, you don't lose sight of your strategic plan and your mission. And that's what you make your decisions within. We also have to think about how we come out the other side of this crisis and what's going to be important at that point, in terms of priorities and goals.
Levulis: And for better or worse through this pandemic folks have experienced virtual learning and telework. Are those types of options viable for the people that you serve?
Deepe: For some, I think that they've done really well with that. I mean, it's for a long term solution, it wouldn't be ideal. Because I think, you know, for every situation where we're hearing it is working for someone, we're also hearing on the other side, that it isn't and that people are unfortunately regressing in terms of their skills that they may have acquired prior to the pandemic, their behaviors of course, you know, a lot of the people we support have behavioral challenges. And so, you think about how the stress and anxiety of these last six months have done to any of us. And that becomes, you know, so much more impactful for someone who may not be able to understand fully what's going on in the world around us. So it is viable for some. It's not ideal and of course, you know, we can't wait till we can come back, you know, to fully in-person services, because that's where we really see our supports making the most impact for people in their lives.