WINCHESTER — About 40% of the roughly 80 employees in the Frederick County Department of Social Services have received the COVID-19 vaccine, despite it being offered to all of them.

Those who didn’t get vaccinated weren’t asked why, though some expressed concern about the safety of the vaccine while others cited pre-existing medical conditions, DSS Director Tamara Green said following Tuesday’s Frederick County Social Services Board meeting.

Green told the board that the department continues to make safety a priority.

Some employees have been teleworking as many as four days a week as a precaution during the ongoing pandemic, she said. But the department hopes to soon return to a full A/B schedule, where half of the staff works in the office one day and the other half another day. This could happen if public schools expand in-person learning or at the start of the summer. She said staff are being encouraged to start thinking about child care arrangements now, as day care centers have limited slots available.

“One of our concerns for staff that we continue to discuss is there’s going to be limited child care,” Green said. “... It is a concern, we continue to try to be flexible and adaptable. Telework has been working so far and when issues do arise we address them, but so far we have been able to meet all of our mandates, and we’ve been successful with keeping people out of the office. So when you walk through you’ll notice there’s about anywhere from 40% to 50% of the staff here. We are just waiting to get back to normal. I think we all have a bit of Zoom and WebEx fatigue.”

Also at the meeting, Susan Hockensmith, the department’s supervisor for Adult Protective Services, said in normal years there’s usually an increase around January in the number of adults referred for protective services.

“This year with COVID, we didn’t really have the January slam, as we call it,” Hockensmith said. “We’ve just been busy all along.”

The county’s APS investigates reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation of adults age 60 and over and incapacitated adults over age 18, then provides services if deemed necessary. According to the county website, the goal of APS is to protect a vulnerable adult’s life, health and property without a loss of liberty.

There were 47 APS reports in November, 30 in December, 38 in January and 36 in February.

Hockensmith said self-neglect continues to be the biggest problem among adults the department is helping, while there has been a “significant dip” in financial exploitation cases.

“With COVID, the last four months or so, we’ve seen a real dip in the referrals coming in for financial exploitation, which is concerning because we know it hasn’t stopped,” she said.

As a result of the pandemic, she said it continues to be difficult to secure Medicaid waiver providers to provide in-home care to elderly/disabled adults who are Medicaid eligible. Most providers have waiting lists. She said the department is seeing delays of weeks and months to get providers into homes, which means those adults are at a higher risk of abuse and neglect for longer periods of time.

The lack of available home care has led to hospitalizations and resulted in some clients entering nursing facilities for long-term care sooner than they may have under normal conditions. She added that nursing facility placements continue to be difficult to secure during the pandemic.

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com

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