Even with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, county leaders last week concluded that the state of Geauga is strong.

Representatives from education, human services as well as health and safety sectors of the community were among the numerous speakers who delivered messages during the State of Geauga Webinar on Feb. 5.

The annual report in years past was done during an in-person breakfast.

“We’re almost a year into this global pandemic and wanted to spend some time hearing from individuals from different sectors on the impact that COVID-19 has had” and what changes will stick in the post-COVID world, said Kimm Leininger, president and CEO of Geauga Growth Partnership.

On March 10, 2020, Gov. Mike DeWine informed universities including Kent State University at Geauga that they had to move to remote classes due to the coronavirus pandemic, recalled Angela Spalsbury, dean and chief administrative officer. The school moved to remote and shut down buildings a week later.

“At the time, we thought it was only going to be a few weeks, but nevertheless, we quickly began to offer all of our students sports as well,” said Dr. Spalsbury. “These services are a big part of the reason that students attend the regional campus and is what we call the regional campus advantage.”

Dr. Spalsbury said almost immediately they started offering remotely advising services, financial aid counseling, mental health counseling, admissions, tutoring and student accessibility services.

“We also quickly made significant 90 improvements in an extremely short period of time in order to support our faculty, staff and students working remotely,” said Dr. Spalsbury.

Many laptops and hotspots were distributed to students and they extended their WiFi into the parking lots on all of the campuses.

“Our campus was better able to adapt than many other institutions of higher education because of our forward-thinking approach to changes in education and the strategic use of technology,” said Dr. Spalsbury.

Back in 2018, the university began offering classes via Zoom and since that time has been able to offer more courses to students.

“We were well poised as a campus to adapt very quickly when the pandemic began,” said Dr. Spalsbury.

As it became clear that the pandemic was going to limit in-person teaching in the fall as well, the faculty took more workshops in the summer through Kent State’s Excellent Center for Teaching and Learning.

“In addition to the Zoom rooms, all of our classrooms on the Geauga campus are equipped with technology that allowed our faculty to teach simultaneously in person and remotely, so our faculty had a level of comfort with this technology, which made the transition easier,” said Dr. Spalsbury.

The university worked throughout the summer to develop protocols for a safe fall reopening utilizing the expertise of Kent State’s College of Public Health.

“Thanks to these efforts, we had a safe reopening in August and throughout the fall semester. I’m really pleased to report that we only had two positive COVID cases of students on the Geauga campus,” said Dr. Spalsbury. “In terms of fall enrollment, it was remarkable that we had almost a 12-percent increase in our headcount despite a predicted decrease [of] 5-10 percent.”

Even though many universities have been in crisis mode for the past 10 months, the university has been doing more than surviving, they are planning for the future.

“We have a small wind turbine on the Geauga campus, which powers the lights in our parking lot. In the spirit of sustainability this past fall, we installed a 1.1-acre solar panel array on the northwest side of the campus, which will be putting enough power back into the grid to power 47 homes, and we expect to see a return in excess of $100,000 over the next 10 years in our savings,” said Dr. Spalsbury.

“With the construction of the Berkshire pre-K-12 building scheduled to open in less than a year, the university remains committed to exploring academic and curriculum partnerships with Berkshire to offer innovative educational experiences to Geauga’s children as we prepare them for the future.”

Department on Aging

Jessica Boalt, director of the Geauga County Department on Aging, said the population the agency serves is growing.

“We are approaching nearly 30,200 individuals 60-plus in our community, which means that about 31 percent of our entire county census is a senior citizen and approximately 1,000 individuals age into our services each year,” said Mrs. Boalt.

The department provides services on an annual basis to about 13,000 individuals and is comprised into two parts. They have an administrative and in-home services office, and they have their senior centers for recreation and education including adult daycare with a staff of 35 people who make senior services happen for the county and 563 volunteers.

“We certainly could not do this without our volunteers; we have 563, and 263 of those deliver meals” said Mrs. Boalt. “Our Meals on Wheels program is staffed by volunteers entirely, driving over 119,000 miles making meals happen for our frail and homebound seniors.”

The department’s administrative and home services include helping seniors get ready for taxes and help with Medicare and are primarily face-to-face services where come into their office and senior centers.

“We have a robust recreation and education program, health and wellness and cognitive stimulation at each of our four senior centers,” said Mrs. Boalt. “We also have meal programs at our senior centers in addition to the home delivered meals.”

The agency provides day services for those with Alzheimer’s disease, she added, “so their loved ones can have some respite.”

On March 16, 2020, Mrs. Boalt said they had to modify operations significantly by closing the senior centers and adult daycare facilities, suspending in-person appointments, out-of-county medical transportation and immediately implemented a telephone reassurance program.

“At that point, we decided to focus on our frail homebound individuals and make our home delivered meals program and our assistance with daily living program, putting individuals in the house to help with daily care and priority for our agency,” said Mrs. Boalt. “So, there was the evolution of services within a week. My staff amazed me.”

Mrs. Boalt said they started curbside to-go meals for those individuals who dined in their senior centers and started the senior food pantry as they saw that food insecurity and the fear of going to the store were huge issues amongst seniors.

“Our saving grace volunteers came to help our staff so we could provide services, they sewed masks for us,” said Mrs. Boalt.

Social media presence has been the quickest way to get information out. “The challenge, especially with our user group once again offering the virtual Senior Center and Adult Day programming even when we are together once again, we still think it’s a convenience for folks who may want to take partner programs from home telecommuting virtual meetings. What a time saver,” said Mrs. Boalt.

Geauga Medical Center

Dr. Donald DeCarlo, president of University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center, said the system continues to monitor the progression of COVID-19.

Dr. DeCarlo said some key COVID-19 metrics that they follow on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes multiples time a day, is what they call a fix command center. They have a meeting at the bedside and then it goes up to the hospital entity, then up to a regional level, and then up to the system executive level.

“We have multiple meetings throughout the day just to monitor the COVID progress to make sure we’re prepared for any advances,” said Dr. DeCarlo. “So right now as of this week we are watching 9,000 cases actually in Ohio, and that’s essentially one out of every 12, Ohio has had COVID virus in the last 10 months or so, which is pretty startling.”

Dr. DeCarlo said Ohio is at 7,981 hospitalizations and that is trending down. January was the deadliest month on record, and part of the reason for this is that it often takes about 30 days from the time the person contracts the virus to the time of death.

“A lot of people ask me what it’s like working in the hospital because there’s a lot of COVID, there, that’s where everybody that has COVID, the sickest of the sick, go,” said Dr. DeCarlo.

Early on in the pandemic, Dr. DeCarlo said he sent a memo to staff discussing the many things he saw during a particular week, including an ICU nurse at the bedside of a patient helping family communicate with their loved one. The nurse held an iPad with tears streaming down her face so the family could say goodbye for the last time, he said.

Dr. DeCarlo said he witnessed countless staff members courageously caring for COVID-19 patients and a manager sitting quietly in their office, crying because they were so concerned about their staff, and instead of going home, they rounded one more time.

“I wrote this, again, early in the pandemic and it is focused on one of the weeks, but I would say that I could probably change this to what I’ve seen over the past now nearly 11 months,” said Dr. DeCarlo. “The staff at times are overwhelmed and many of us, probably all of us, really know why we went into healthcare, to help people.”

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