Mary Gakopoulos and Tina Douvos-Stathopoulos, CEOs of AGAPI Care and PRONIA respectively, have a joint message for the members of both the Greek and the wider community.
“There is no shame in asking for help. We are here for you. We’ll get you to where you’ll need to go” is what the women sitting at the helm of the two organisations that are considered to be among the pillars of the Greek community want you to know.
With over four decades of experience among them the two have both sprang to action in multiple directions from early on in the pandemic with the emphasis on protecting their workforce and clients from coronavirus. They’ve also accelerated their advocacy efforts both on behalf of their clients and on behalf of the community.
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AGAPI Care and PRONIA offer an extensive network of social services for a wide range of people in need: the elderly, people with disabilities, families, survivors of domestic violence and substance abuse, people with mental health issues and, more recently the unemployed, are among those who seek their help.
Their efforts also converge on the dual front of having a COVID- safe plan for staff and clients up to date and actively advocating for high- needs clients, while developing flexible strategies that would enable them to remain agile in the ever changing pandemic conditions and also the post-pandemic period.
The pandemic had a big impact on families, especially families with elderly, with special needs, chronic illnesses and mental health conditions. For many navigating the welfare system was already a challenging exercise pre –COVID 19. The pandemic increased the complexity of finding the best service for their needs and created further confusion among the community.
“As soon as the outbreak in nursing homes in Melbourne started, we’ve received calls asking us all sorts of questions unrelated to us and asking us to step in. People got confused because we offer residential services without realising that our services are not nursing homes,” says Ms Gakopoulos.
Since COVID -19 Ms Gakopoulos increasingly finds herself in situations where she has to step in personally and speak on behalf of families with non-verbal, high-needs children that need to engage health services, especially hospital services.
The two CEOs stress the importance of timely communication and dissemination of specific, clear and culturally appropriate information to the community and especially vulnerable and marginalised groups.
Keeping staff and clients COVID free has added to the complexity of the two welfare organisations’ reality in addition to providing a multitude of support services to those in need; offering emergency relief, supporting those with mental health issues, identifying and responding to needs and referring to other services, helping the elderly and the disabled to maintain their independence.
Ms Douvos-Stathopoulos and Ms Gakopoulos are also mindful of the impact of the recovery after COVID-19 on women. AGAPI’s survey has shown that in the post –corona period 84% of women in families with disabilities will be adversely impacted. The organisation is running another survey in its efforts to assess the impact on support workers post-pandemic.
Ms Douvos-Stathopoulos is concerned about the rise in domestic violence cases and its impact on women and their children. She believes that this little discussed issue in the community is a major contributor to the increase in mental health cases and will continue to be post-pandemic. Isolation and loneliness have also led to an increase in men over 65 who seek support with over 45% of calls to PRONIA’s services coming from this cohort. In tandem with her concerns, some of them grave, Ms Douvos-Stathopoulos reiterates the message “we are here for you” and Ms Gakopoulos emphasises that “we’ll get you to where you need to go.”