Back in June 2020, CLM’s Religious and Non-Profit Committee assembled a panel to discuss the issues and challenges that organizations face as they began to resume operations and reopen their doors. In this follow-up discussion, moderated by CLM Religious and Non-Profit Committee Co-Chair Tom Glassman, the panel discusses the struggles non-profits and religious organizations have faced since then while looking for a path forward.
Meet the Panel
Tom Glassman is a 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.
Gwendolyn Howes, AIC, ACP, is an executive claims specialist with The Redwoods Group, a member of Crum & Forster. She has been handling bodily injury claims on behalf of non-profits such as YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, Jewish organizations, and residential camps for over 15 years.
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.
Anna Kutz, ACP, joined the risk department of the Boy Scouts of America in June 2014 as an insurance management specialist, and currently serves as a senior litigation claims specialist in their legal department. She has specialized in litigation since 1985, focusing on class-action and general liability claims litigation since 2005.
Tom Glassman: What has surprised you the most (either pleasantly or unpleasantly) since religious and non-profit organizations have either resumed or increased their activities and programming?
Gwendolyn Howes: I have not been surprised to see how so many non-profits have worked hard to find new ways of serving their communities as they have been allowed to increase or resume their activities. In fact, some non-profits found ways to never completely cease their operations. Instead of social distancing, non-profits—especially those that serve children—just adjusted to physical distancing with social connection.
Non-profits have been changing their programming in numerous ways and continue to adapt to societal needs. They have been offering virtual classes, meetings, and conversations. They have moved programming outside to make classes safer and to allow for greater physical distancing. Additionally, non-profits have become meal distribution sites for school districts and food banks, and they continue to amaze me as they find ways to partner with other organizations in their communities to help fill the needs of those who need their services the most.
Most importantly, child-serving non-profits filled the greatest need at the onset of the pandemic by providing child care for essential workers—especially first responders, doctors, and nurses—through partnerships with hospitals and other medical facilities when school systems and child-care centers were ordered to close. Non-profits like YMCAs provided a place for parents to take their children where they could play, be fed, and have a sense of normalcy while their parent(s) were on the front lines battling a disease that they were still learning about.
When the school year began, many non-profits also opened their doors to provide virtual learning academies. Non-profits, including Boys and Girls Clubs, teamed up with YMCAs to turn empty gyms, auditoriums, and fitness rooms into classrooms where children could go to have a safe place to learn. They provided children with a place to sit and have access to the internet so that they could log into their remote learning classrooms, all under the watch of staff who were there to help answer questions, facilitate free time and games, and provide meals to help nourish children’s bodies.
Melanie Tyree: From what has been reported to me, people have been complying with the enhanced protocols without any major problems, which was great to hear!
Anna Kutz: A pleasant surprise was how devoted employees and volunteers were to finding ways to adapt and survive. It was, and is, a team effort to keep things afloat and determine the most efficient ways to keep up to speed with different state restrictions that that were constantly changing with respect to COVID-19. Great efforts were made to put together and implement protocols and processes to track data with respect to COVID-19 incidents and exposures. Additionally, volunteers actively engaged with the organization to find new avenues to provide the Scouting program to youth, including Zoom troop meetings and outdoor projects with appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) and social distancing. The most unpleasant happening from COVID-19 included the cancellation of many camping programs on a state and national level, simply because so many youths look forward to this the most each summer.
Glassman: Will any of the various changes that religious and non-profit organizations implemented since the start of the pandemic become permanent?
Howes: Non-profits are now requiring masks, temperature checks, and health screenings to take place prior to entry into their facilities. They are providing hand-sanitizing stations, and other safety measures, all while trying to continue to stay physically distant. The increased need to provide safe and clean facilities is causing an increase in expenses like cleaning supplies and PPE that many non-profits do not have room in their budgets for.
Unfortunately, the increased expenses and decrease in funding as well as the continued ongoing pandemic has forced some non-profits to cease their operations and close their doors permanently. Some non-profits have also had to decrease their services or merge with other entities to continue to serve their communities.
The non-profits that choose to continue to keep their doors open have had to find ways to balance operating with reduced staff, decreased funding, and new safety requirements set forth by both state and local governments while still meeting the needs of their communities. Some have had to reduce their operating hours as well as limit the amount of people that they can serve at one time. Some have changed the way they operate or how their buildings flow, including rearranging their spaces, furniture, equipment, and creating more distance between their resources. All of these changes are costly, and it may be quite some time before they can operate to their fullest potential.
Non-profits also greatly rely on volunteers to help them provide services to their community. Non-profits have had to cut back on how many volunteers that they can have at any one time in their facility, or even the age of the volunteers, to protect their staff and those who they serve. Regular volunteers also may not feel as comfortable leaving their homes, which leads to a decrease of volunteers. This ongoing decrease has also contributed to the reduction of some nonprofits’ ability to provide services. The decrease in volunteerism hopefully will not last, but the long-term effects are unknown.
However, a great example of a positive change in programming that may remain, or at least be a portion of their programming in the future, is that some non-profit and religious camps opened up much differently this summer than in the past. Instead of cabins being full of children, some camps chose to keep their doors open by offering family-style camp programming. Families were welcome to come to camp, stay in a cabin, eat meals together, and disconnect from screens and reconnect with one another. Camps provided a great way to be physically distant from others while staying socially connected.
Kutz: I think the embracement and tolerance for working remotely will remain. While this is a controversial subject for many organizations, I believe the pandemic provided an avenue to allow employers and organizations to experience how efficient remote work can be. Sometimes things must be experienced for everyone involved to really understand how it may or may not work, and the pandemic provided that opportunity.
Glassman: What special challenges did religious and non-profit organizations face as the holidays and the cold-weather months approached?
Howes: The colder months likely mean the end of programming and activities in outdoor settings. It will be too cold, rainy, and/or snowy to provide services outside, especially in areas where the winter months bring drastic changes in temperatures. The fact that the spread of COVID-19 has increased in November and December—months in which the needs of the communities often increase—meant that non-profit organizations had to continue to reassess how they operate.
Kutz: Membership and fundraising approaches will need to be re-imagined. With schools and other events by organizations following their own COVID-19 protocols, in person meetings and presentations are generally not allowed. Again, this will be something that each local organization will need to evaluate, and they will need to find new approaches to raise funds and membership.
Glassman: We are now 10 months from when the pandemic began causing shutdowns across the country. What new challenges are there out on the horizon that we have not yet had to deal with?
Howes: The longer that COVID-19 lingers, the bigger the effect it will have on the future of litigation and how it is handled. Are remote depositions and mediations going to be the new normal? How is COVID-19 going to affect the ability to seat a jury? How is COVID-19 going to affect social inflation and the increased cost of claims—in particular, the rising cost of health care? How is society going to view safety standards and how they are enforced?
However, many non-profits may be seen in a more positive way by juries in future litigated cases. Will juries remember the services that non-profits provided when others didn’t or couldn’t? Will they remember how they responded during great times of need? Will jury members who gained personal experiences with non-profits be able to personalize them more? Will a jury now understand how hard it can be to keep people safe?
Tyree: There will likely be a shortage of emergency cold weather shelters for the homeless due to COVID-19. As the pandemic continues, the demand for social services increases. We will continue to see an increased need at our already overtaxed food banks.
Kutz: Different kinds of claims will emerge because of the toll the pandemic has had on our lives. I think employment claims with respect to the pandemic will balloon. Organizations will need to navigate their way with respect to any governmental loan workouts that they took advantage of, which will be new territory for many of them. How will liability with respect to COVID-19 work on a state-by-state basis? Which organizations will be exempt from COVID-19 claims—and which won’t be? There will be many questions to be answered for months or even years to come.