The Open Doors of Risk

Reopening challenges facing religious and non-profit institutions

June 28, 2020 Photo

CLM’s Religious and Non-Profit Committee assembled a panel to discuss the COVID-19-related issues and challenges that organizations face as they begin to resume operations and reopen their doors to the communities they serve. In a discussion, moderated by CLM Religious and Non-Profit Committee Co-Chair Tom Glassman, one of the realizations that the panel discovers is that before they can come up with answers, they must first figure out the questions.

Tom Glassman: Let’s get right to it: What issues do religious and non-profit organizations need to be mindful of before they begin to make their facilities available to the public and their members again?

Flavia Pemberton: As organizations begin making their facilities available to the public, they must be wary of all the practices that could foster re-spread of COVID-19. These organizations will have to delay returning to exactly the way things were prior to the implementation of social distancing.

Melanie Tyree: Current local authority and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines must be followed to resume operations. They must determine how to ensure their facilities are able to accommodate social distancing protocols, and how will it be enforced.

Jamie Glanz: As the shelter-in-place and emergency orders from the states start to be lifted, there are several facets to reopening religious and non-profit organizations to the public. How operations were conducted pre-pandemic will be different post-pandemic, including the needs of those served. As planning to reopen begins, considerations will include psychological components, location capacity, and safety.

This pandemic is like nothing we have ever experienced before. Individuals must worry about their well-being as well as the exposure of those they care about, some of whom may have compromised health. On one side, employees and organization members may not feel comfortable returning to larger gatherings, while others may be anxious to get back to the pre-pandemic activities. Either side of this spectrum poses varying considerations; for those with fear, when it is the right time to return? For those without, are they practicing enough of the safe habits to ensure the well-being of those whom they encounter? In those instances where employees do not feel safe returning, will there be enough staffing to allow an organization to resume public service? Being able to address the psychological concerns of all parties is not going to be a one-size-fits-all answer; it will require careful consideration.

Location capacity, and how religious and non-profit organizations serve within these constraints, is a consideration. One of the key elements of safety is social distancing. This becomes an especially unique challenge for religious entities when considering their congregations and how they can gather safely. Additionally, religious entities, by their nature, are inclusive, so what would limiting or restricting gathering size look and feel like? Non-profits will be challenged, as they typically have limited real estate and are commonly providing solutions in areas where the need is greater than the serving abilities. Non-profits tend to provide services in more urban areas, which are the areas experiencing greater outbreaks, so will their real-estate logistics support the social requirements to safely operate?

The most critical element to resuming service to the public is safety. How do we ensure the safety of both employees and the public with limited funds and service needs that are greater than ever? The most basic safety concepts are a hazard assessment and a complete understanding of the risk. Resuming operations is going to require understanding how the risk could impact employees, those being served, and the public. What steps are going to be taken to ensure individuals with symptoms are not entering the facilities? How will the correct safeguards and personal protective gear (masks and gloves) be used? How will cleaning be conducted to ensure surfaces are safe and clean? All of these questions need answers before reopening.

Glassman: What are some changes you think organizations will need to make going forward with how they manage their facilities, once they begin to resume programming and operations?

Pemberton: There will not be an instant return to normalcy. Instead, organizations will need to gradually approach reopening. Facilities cannot be managed in the same way that they have always been handled. In particular, the open-concept approach to seating that has been adopted in recent years make for a difficult return to normalcy. Organizations will have to continue to adhere to a distancing protocol in order to prevent a progression of the disease.

Glanz: Organizations are going to need to re-evaluate how they serve from several perspectives. Employees may have challenges in that they may no longer have day-care or school services, so they may have added responsibilities outside of work. Reducing gathering sizes and maintaining safe distancing may require offering more staggered services, or more virtual and remote options. Stricter guidelines for entrance and monitoring will be needed. Facilities are going to need to have a strategic plan when reopening to the public, and understand what resources they are going to need to successfully accomplish this. Once this plan is established, there must be clear communication to those whom the organization serves in conjunction with an explanation for the reasoning of the plan and how it will be executed. The CDC is a great resource for best practices in creating and executing a plan.

Glassman: What changes will religious and non-profit organizations have to make in their programming once they begin to resume operations? How will this vary depending upon the demographics they serve?

Pemberton: Once they begin to resume operations, religious and non-profit organizations will have to amend programming by limiting exposure and physical interaction. One practice in particular that will need to be amended is Holy Communion, which in many Christian faiths involves drinking from the same chalice. Another common Christian practice is passing the sign of peace, which involves shaking hands and/or hugging as many members of the congregation as possible. Both of these practices can lead to exposure in a post-COVID-19 environment. Organizations will need to rework these traditions in a way that will maintain the integrity of the practice while adhering to new social norms.

Glanz: While the impact COVID-19 is having tends to be greater for those with compromised health, it has also been found to have serious health impacts for seemingly low-risk individuals, as well. Organizations need to be cognizant of how individuals’ demographics impact their risk.

Senior citizens tend to have more co-morbidities, making them more susceptible to the virus and its secondary complications. This group may need assistance with certain functions—for example, they may be unable to drive and have to get a ride from someone, or they may need assistance with steps—placing them in closer proximity than what is recommended from a social-distancing consideration.

School-aged children may pose a unique threat, too, in that they do not have a good understanding of the gravity of an exposure. They will need guidance and reminders of safe habits, as they are anxious to get back to the “normal” they knew before the pandemic.

Preschoolers do not yet have the vocabulary or capability to understand what will be asked of them, why they need to keep a distance, or why a face mask is needed when it is hot and uncomfortable and they were never required to wear one before. This group will need support and close monitoring to stay safe.

For college students, social gatherings and being connected is a large part of the experience. From lecture halls to study and lab groups, this group has been impacted on how they learn and how they move in the world. Additionally, this demographic often doesn’t display COVID-19 symptoms, so they may be able to carry and transmit this virus without knowing. College students can be leaders as we incorporate technology and virtual considerations in reopening.

Immigrants and refugees may not have access to health care or, because of fears, may choose not to seek treatment until their conditions are more desperate. This demographic tends to live in tighter or over-crowded residences, making exposures more difficult to control. We anticipate this demographic to need more support and access to health care to safely resume activities.

In general, the demographic make-up of a family will play a role in what they need. One major consideration for families will be child care, and how family members can resume their roles as employees or volunteers when their children are not in school or when services available to assist with elder members of the family are not available.

Low-income families will face safety challenges due to limited access to resources. Low-income families may not have appropriate health care, cleaning, or sanitizing products. Additionally, low-income families in need of support to maintain their health often rely on religious and non-profit organizations, so the need is greater than ever now.

While low unemployment rates were the norm until just a few months ago, many individuals are now unemployed or under-employed. They may find themselves in situations where their spending needs have to be reduced and thus may need more services to remain healthy.

Glassman: What changes will religious and non-profit organizations need to make in their screening and oversight of volunteers going forward?

Pemberton: Among the changes that may be needed will be temperature-testing of all volunteers for the foreseeable future; a requirement that masks and other personal protective equipment be worn at all times when interacting with the public; making COVID-19 testing available for all volunteers when it becomes available; limiting restroom usage to one person at a time; increasing sanitization of common areas; adding additional wash stations for handwashing; and providing hand sanitizer and disinfectants for each volunteer. 


Meet the Panel

Tom Glassman is co-chair of CLM’s Religious and Non-Profit Committee. He is a shareholder in the Cincinnati office of Bonezzi Switzer Polito & Hupp, practicing in Ohio and Kentucky. For over 25 years, he has represented insurers, organizations, and schools in claims, coverage matters, and in developing their policies and procedures.

Jamie Glanz is senior vice president of claims at Assurance, a Marsh and McLennan Agency LLC company. With more than 20 years of experience, she is an expert in mitigating third-party claims by reducing claim duration and incurred expenses. Throughout her career, she has managed claims across multiple lines of coverage and industries, including construction, governmental agencies, health care, manufacturing, and retail.

Flavia Pemberton is vice president of environmental claims at Ascot Group. Prior to joining Ascot, she held various roles at other carriers, including Berkley Environmental and Navigators.

Melanie G. Tyree is a risk control specialist with Catholic Mutual Group. She is currently part of a team responsible for assisting members with identifying risks and implementing measures to prevent losses. She has been working with Catholic entities for 12 years and has 15 years of experience in multi-line claims adjusting and supervision.

About The Authors
Tom Glassman

Tom Glassman is a shareholder in the Cincinnati office of Bonezzi Switzer Polito & Hupp. He can be reached at

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