CORONAVIRUS

Options of Linn County to furlough employees next month

LIFTS to deliver groceries, prescriptions to clients

LIFTS vehicles are parked in January in the new facility for the agency at 5815 Fourth St. SW, Cedar Rapids. LIFTS, a pu
LIFTS vehicles are parked in January in the new facility for the agency at 5815 Fourth St. SW, Cedar Rapids. LIFTS, a public transit service for eligible elderly and disabled residents, will begin delivering groceries and prescriptions to clients. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Employees with Options of Linn County will have paid leave through April 17, after which they will be furloughed for 30 days, and Linn County LIFTS will begin delivering groceries and prescriptions to clients.

Operations at Options, a county program that provides day habilitation services to adults with disabilities, were suspended March 17 as cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, continued to rise in Linn County. The department is funded by Medicaid.

“That’s a lot of money flowing out, even though there are no clients to serve,” said Jim Fox, director of Options of Linn County.

The Options staff has volunteered by delivering meals and making masks, but “it seems like we’re not that essential, and we’re almost flying in the face of what public health officials recommend,” Fox said during a Linn County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday.

As of Friday, 26 of 40 Options employees had taken paid leave available to county employees until April 17 because of COVID-19.

All other Options employees will be off on COVID-19 paid leave until April 17. After that, they will be furloughed for 30 days and will be able to apply for unemployment benefits.

Employees are eligible for county COVID-19 paid leave if:

• They test positive for COVID-19, have suspected exposure or need to take care of a family member or someone with the virus.

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• They have traveled to an area that is on a restricted travel list in effect on the planned date of return.

• They are showing symptoms of the virus.

• They choose to self-isolate because of underlying health conditions or age, or have a spouse or dependent with these conditions.

• Or they need to stay home to care for a family member because of closed schools or child care facilities.

County supervisors approved the leave policy last week.

“We wanted to make absolutely sure folks were safe and still had wages coming in,” Supervisor Stacey Walker said.

Fox said many Options employees have voiced concern about money going out without any coming in.

“All they really want to know is if they will have an Options to come back to,” Fox said. “The future of the program is their first concern. I tell them first to do what’s right for them and their family.”

Fox said when contacting clients to see if they would be interested in home services during COVID-19, about 20 initially expressed interest but became leery of having people come into their homes as they learned more about the virus.

LIFTS to deliver groceries, prescriptions

The Linn County Board of Supervisors also approved LIFTS, a public transit service for eligible elderly and disabled residents, to begin delivering groceries and prescriptions.

LIFTS Director Tom Hardecopf said the service is an expansion of LIFTS’ regular responsibilities of taking people to the grocery store or appointments.

“Instead, we’d be taking the groceries to the people,” Hardecopf said.

The change in service would not affect the department’s budget, Hardecopf said.

The department already is screening employees’ temperatures at the beginning of each shift. When a customer calls, staff will ask if the customer is sick or has a fever or cough, so LIFTS is not putting employees at risk.

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“You and your team never fail to amaze me as we are presented with new challenges,” Walker said to Hardecopf. “Now, you’re retooling your operation to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in the community.”

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.