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LINCOLNTON – It’s hardly been business as usual at the Lincoln County Department of Social Services. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the entire department to make changes to how they operate, according to DSS Director Tony Carpenter. Many of these changes and adaptions are still in place. It wasn’t like the DSS could shut down during the pandemic as other businesses did. In fact, they saw an increase in need throughout the pandemic.

When clients arrive at the office, they log in through a computer and are then called one by one to an intake manager who’s seated behind plexiglass. Once the client is checked in, he or she will be directed to an interior office where the interview will be conducted by phone. Once the client leaves, the entire space will be sanitized.

“We’ve had some folks out with COVID,” Carpenter said. “I think Omicron hit us harder than the other variants, but we never had to shut down.”

Requirements changed through emergency waivers so there was a constant relearning and retraining on rules and regulations. At some unknown point in time, people who are now receiving the maximum benefits will be cut back to their former levels which Carpenter expects will be hard on them and his staff.

Whenever child protective services had to go out to visit with clients, early in the pandemic, DSS social workers visited in full protective gear and then have the suit sanitized when they returned.

“We had to gather everything that we could to keep our people safe,” Carpenter said. “We had to develop protocols for telework and what that looks like. It was a big endeavor. We’ve still got 40 to 50 people working remotely. Their jobs are challenging and stressful on a regular basis, factoring in a pandemic made it that much more difficult.”

There will be some of these changes and protocols that Carpenter expects will stay in place such as remote working.

“Our new IT worker has been great to work with and has helped us bring in some new programming to make distance working even more successful,” he said. “It used to be you couldn’t get anything from a distance. There’s been some enhancements in distance access to many of the federal programs. We were in the process of replacing laptops when COVID first hit so we were able to put the old ones into work with the new ones.”

The additional laptops in use allowed also for more social distancing within the office.

DSS now has a good supply of PPE on hand so they’re prepared for whatever may come in the future.

“Our staff stepped up when all of this happened,” Carpenter said. “A lot of people suffered emotionally throughout this and there was a big toll on society. COVID has been a beast, but we’ve learned a lot and it forced us into places where we probably would have never gone. Those things will last a little while. Our ability to respond to crisis has improved – it had to.”

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