iCarol is very proud and excited to be an exhibitor at the first ever virtual Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) E-Conference being held September 16-18.
The AIRS Conference is one of our favorite events of the year, so we’re very excited to take part in their virtual event beginning today. While things are a bit different this year, we are thrilled to see how resilient and adaptive the I&R community has been in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst handling a record number of requests for their services the organizations and professionals in this space have found ways to innovate and reach even more people, often while working remotely.
For agencies serving older adults and those with disabilities, another industry highly active at this conference, they serve a population that is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, who still require social connections and other services while maintaining social distance. Aging organizations have stepped up in amazing ways to provide consistency and reassurance.
Of course, it’s really no surprise to us that these industries have been so responsive to unprecedented challenges – 2-1-1s and I&R professionals are famous for their ability to find creative solutions to almost any challenge!
At our booth this week we have lots of information to share about our *NEW* iCarol features that empower 2-1-1s and other I&R services to:
- Rapidly respond during disasters and other emergencies
- Document data needed to submit reimbursement requests
- Meet people on preferred communication channels
- Collaborate with Community-Based Organizations to address Social Determinants of Health
- Participate in CIE and No Wrong Door initiatives
- Integrate with other software and systems
- Provide Closed-Loop referral and collect outcome data
In the weeks, months, and even years ahead, communities will continue to face hardships around finances, housing, employment, food insecurity, and access to healthcare as a result of this pandemic. We hope during these busy few days of virtually learning at AIRS attendees will find time to stop by our 2-1-1 services booth or Older Adult and Disability services booth and learn about all the latest solutions iCarol has to offer to help 2-1-1s, Aging and Disability services, and other Information and Referral centers meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
It’s important to us that our customers still have the opportunity to connect with us, receive training, and have the option to participate in a user group session, even if this year we can’t hold the event in person.
Our first initiative to provide that continuity — the user group portion of our conference will become a virtual user group session — is now just two weeks away! The session will occur on Thursday, June 11 at 2pm Eastern time.
This virtual user group session is your chance to hear about the latest improvements and enhancements to iCarol, learn what we have planned for implementation in the coming months, and discuss and provide feedback to the iCarol Product Management team on what features you’d like to see implemented in the future. All customers or those exploring iCarol for potential use at their organization are welcome to attend.
Virtual User Group Exclusive: Attendees of this session will be the first to hear about a major feature release coming in Q4 of 2020! You won’t want to miss it!
During this session we will:*
- Review released features and enhancements from the past year
- Share features and enhancements in progress and coming soon
- Discuss iCarol strategy and priorities
- Invite your industry expertise and votes on top ideas
- Share a sneak peek at an all new, major feature release coming in Q4 of 2020!
Learn More and Register
*We reserve the right to make adjustments to our schedule and topics prior to the event date.
In May, our Support Team began offering monthly training webinars. These training sessions will be consistently held on the third Wednesday of each month at 2pm EDT.
Our topic for June 17, 2020 at 2pm EDT is Managing Automated Verification Requests and Responses.The goal of this training session is to teach iCarol users how to manage their Automated Verification Requests and Responses, and configure what fields are visible to the verifier. This training is for iCarol customers who are subscribed to the Automated Verification feature, or those who are interested in learning more about subscribing to that feature.
Not sure what the Automated Verification feature does? Click here to learn more.
During this training participants will:
- Review the Field Visibility Settings for Verifiers
- Learn how to style your data entry for optimal outcomes
- Understand the various request settings
- Learn about response filters
The Monthly Support Trainings are available exclusively to iCarol customers. To sign up, please sign into your iCarol system and navigate to the iCarol Help Center, where the registration link is provided in the Announcements area.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has announced a program providing $15 million in total support to stimulate collaborations between academic researchers and the public and not-for-profit sectors, and industry to address pandemic-related research and technical challenges. Support for up to $50,000 for one-year projects is being made available immediately and NSERC will process these applications in an accelerated fashion.
Who is it for?
University researchers collaborating with private-sector, public-sector or not-for-profit organizations.
How much and for how long?
Up to $50,000 for up to 1 year.
The objectives of the NSERC Alliance COVID-19 grants are to:
- Accelerate the flow and exchange of research results and research expertise in the natural sciences and engineering sectors between academic researchers and public, not for profit and industry partners by supporting these organizations as they face challenges in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Support research and analysis activities that address partner organization questions or issues in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to applications in the short term.
Applications will be accepted at any time until June 1, 2020.
Learn More and Apply
As the COVID-19 public health crisis remains, individuals and businesses continue to see a financial impact due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders implemented in the interest of public safety. A number of resources have been made available, including reallocation or reopening of funding processes for initiatives previously depleted of first round funding. Click the links below for more information about these initiatives in both Canada and the United States.
Businesses of all types have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 crisis, including not-for-profit organizations. Both the Canadian and US Federal Governments have made assistance programs available to small businesses, particularly regarding maintaining of payroll in spite of lost income. The following resources may be helpful to your non-profit organization if you need to explore such programs for your agency:
We have been closely watching the developments around the novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic. In these and other difficult times, our primary focus always turns to our customers and the people and communities they serve, as well as the health and well-being of our employees.
Many of our customers are playing a direct and active role in the response to COVID-19 by providing emotional support, reassurance, and reliable information and referral, and working directly with their state/provincial and local governments to collect data and rapidly disseminate new information of service to the public. We want to do all we can to support them in their efforts, and so we have taken the following steps:
- Offer 30 days of free Contact Record or Resource Database sharing tools in iCarol, to help our customers with their collaborations, continuity of operations, or coordinated data collection and reporting.
- Apply an ad hoc Taxonomy update to iCarol that includes new terms related to COVID-19.
- Provide prompt response to all customer requests related to COVID-19, such as assistance with editing Contact Forms, adding new tools, or making system settings changes.
- Monitor system performance and volume, and add additional resources within our Microsoft Azure infrastructure to scale and increase capacity as necessary.
- Listen and engage with key industry organizations to be sure we are prepared for and responsive to our customers’ needs as the situation continues to evolve.
We understand that many of our customers are transitioning their volunteers and staff to a remote work model to maintain continuity of operations while reducing human presence within the contact center. For many, this model is unfamiliar and one sometimes met with apprehension. Being a web-based solution, iCarol provides many tools and features that can make this transition easier. The iCarol functionality needed to carry out their work can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, while managers can still exercise supervision and ultimate control over volunteer/staff permissions and system access. On our blog, we will share more detailed tips and guidance on how our customers can use iCarol remotely, which will help keep their people and communities safer.
Of course, the safety of members of the iCarol family, customers and employees alike, is at the forefront of our minds. iCarol has activated our own business continuity plan, which specifically calls out provisions in the case of a pandemic. Most of the iCarol team already works remotely, and nearly all of our interaction with customers is through email, live chat, online meetings, or phone calls, which limits the risk of exposing ourselves or our customers to the spread of the virus. Our small number of team members who usually work in an office setting have been working from home and will continue to do so until it is safe to return to the office. There has also been significant cross-training between the iCarol and CityView technology/development teams which expands the amount of human resources available to quickly respond to technology or infrastructure needs.
Our parent company, Harris Computer Systems, has provided excellent leadership throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, and feels that we must all do our part as responsible citizens to enhance the safety of our employees and the communities in which we live and work. Any in-person internal meetings are being reconsidered and either postponed or converted to virtual events, and all business travel is being evaluated and cancelled or postponed as needed. Harris Computer encourages all its employees to follow the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
Our customers always display an unwavering commitment to their communities, and they are courageously upholding these values even in the midst of these unprecedented events. We are inspired by their actions, and honored to serve them however we can. Should you have any questions on how iCarol can assist or support your organization in response to COVID-19, please contact us.
The following iCarol resources may be helpful to you as you research, plan, and act during an emergency:
Data Exporting, Sharing, and Integrations Options in iCarol
Do More Together: A Guide to Collaborations
Using iCarol During a Disaster or Emergency
Like many of you, we are closely watching developments related to novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, while cases emerge around the world and concerns about the virus intensify.
We recognize that many of our customer organizations have a critical role to play when incidents like these arise. Because of their earned reputations as trustworthy sources of information and support, local helplines and contact centers are often relied upon to engage with their communities and provide reassurance, emotional support, reliable information, and referrals to resources.
Based on our experiences working with our customers during past natural and manmade disasters, you may consider some of the following actions for your organization:
- Keep relevant, accurate information readily available to give out to your clients as needed. The best sources of information at this time are:
- Review your own internal disaster/emergency incident policies and procedures to maintain continuity of operations.
- Familiarize yourself with your local and state agencies that may provide direct services and assistance, such as local Departments of Health and Human Services, and ensure that referral database information is up-to-date for these agencies.
- Network with your contacts at the aforementioned agencies to remind them of the services you provide and request that your organization be kept abreast of any developments or actions they plan to take, so you can assist in their efforts to inform the public.
- Consider what data collection elements should be added to your iCarol Contact Form so that any contacts about Coronavirus can be tracked and documented in case you are asked to report on this information.
- Enable client self-service by including information about your agency’s role, as well as links to official sources of information, on your organization’s website and social media presence.
- Direct callers to the right extension or audio message containing Coronavirus information by setting up an option in your IVR/Phone tree within your phone system.
iCarol is here to help you with any initiatives you might become engaged in related to Coronavirus, so that you can respond to your community’s needs quickly and efficiently. Options like:
and many other partnership options and integrations are readily available.
- Sharing your database of resource information with partner
- Sharing Contact Forms within your network
- Providing after-hours or collaborative Call/Chat/SMS response or reporting
As community service, iCarol can turn on Contact Record and Resource Database sharing for up to 30 days during a qualified event for no additional cost.
Potential use cases for these kinds of partnerships are:
- Several contact centers within a state or region need to share a single Resource Database, or view one another’s databases, so they can provide seamless referrals regardless of where in the network the client contacting them is located.
- Collaborators share Contact Forms so they can all collect consistent data related to the disaster or event, and complete consolidated reporting.
- When one center must shutdown services at their location and transfer their calls to a partner, their partner can access their Contact Form and Resource Database, to be sure they can fully function as that closed center’s backup until the center can reopen and resume services to their community.
The following iCarol resources may be helpful to you as you research and plan partnerships during an emergency:
Data Exporting, Sharing, and Integrations Options in iCarol
Do More Together: A Guide to Collaborations
Using iCarol During a Disaster or Emergency
We want to take this opportunity to thank our customers for all their current and future efforts in responding to Coronavirus/ COVID-19. Your dedication to the health and wellbeing of your communities is remarkable and does not go unnoticed by us. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the iCarol Team should you have questions about using your iCarol system to respond to this incident, or need help enabling partnerships and integrations, and we will be happy to assist you.
As another year closes and a new one begins, we naturally reflect on the accomplishments, celebrations, and important moments of 2019 while anticipating all that lies ahead. Personally, I consider the past year to be one full of progress, both in the industries we serve and here at iCarol.
All year we engage with our customers at industry conferences, forums, and in other capacities so we can be intimately aware of the topics currently affecting them and others on the horizon. This helps us to respond in kind to meet these needs with new, innovative solutions from iCarol. This year was no exception – we have seen movement across all of the industries we serve that open opportunities for our customers that we are actively exploring ways to support using iCarol software.
In the world of Information and Referral, the topics of Social Determinants of Health, Closed-loop referral, and further encouragement to engage in partnerships and collaboration all show promise for many exciting opportunities for our customers. Those working to address sexual and intimate partner violence continue to advocate for education, awareness, prevention, improved response, and justice for all those who experienced a crime. We’re excited to see their advocacy result in new legislation across several states that extend statutes of limitations for crimes, signaling better recognition of the complexities and time involved for survivors to report, and improved allocation of resources towards testing material from forensic exams, improving the chances that survivors will receive justice. In December, the United States Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to establish a three-digit number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the next 18 months. This is long sought after acknowledgement that mental health emergencies deserve the same attention and response as the types of emergencies reported to 9-1-1, something suicide prevention advocates have long been pressing for as a way to prevent suicide. Finally, concerns about consent for contact and data privacy continue to loom large across the world. Previous years have given us CASL in Canada and GDPR in the EU, both sweeping and comprehensive sets of regulations. Now we are beginning to see individual states and provinces taking on the task of writing their own legislation to protect consumers from having their data harvested and sold without their knowledge and consent, most notably in California’s Consumer Protection Act. We are doing all we can, and relying on our resources available through Harris Computer, to make sure that we are in full compliance with such laws, and that our customers are aware of how these laws may impact them directly.
These are just a few examples of developments impacting our customers in the year ahead. Of course we will look for any ways iCarol can support our customers through these changes, and help them carry out their life saving work. Look for more from us on our blog and webinars for updates on how we are addressing these topics.
The industries we serve aren’t the only ones experiencing progress – iCarol, too, went through positive changes in 2019. In December we moved to a new infrastructure on which the iCarol web application runs – Microsoft Azure. The migration to this new platform was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and effort, and was not without its challenges and setbacks, but we are delighted to now be fully operational in the new environment and excited for all it means for our customers. Microsoft Azure will help us provide the most up-to-date, technologically advanced platform available. We can scale and ramp up performance as needed to meet increases in system use, whether it be due to an event, disaster, or the normal periodic demands on the system that occur for monthly exports and reporting. We are delighted not just by the way this move allows us to be more responsive to system demands, but knowing that Azure offers built-in security services that include unparalleled security intelligence. We are very excited to track data over time to show how this new infrastructure improves performance and stability, and supports the future growth in iCarol’s customer base.
I must acknowledge and express deep gratitude for the great support and patience we received from our customers during this transition and in the months prior. Our customers exercised immense trust and patience with us as we developed the plan to make this sweeping change to our infrastructure. Their user testing of the new environment, feedback, and communication with us greatly contributed to the success of this project. I cannot say enough wonderful things about our customers as essential partners with us on this journey.
There is much more to share about what was accomplished in the year behind us, and what’s on our agenda for the year ahead. Later this month we will host a “State of iCarol” webinar for our customers reviewing 2019 progress and our plans for 2020. You can also look to our blogs and email updates, and for customers, our Admin Dashboard, for more exciting information as it develops.
So, as this new year begins, I wish to thank everyone who makes it their life’s work to help others, most especially our customers, on behalf of the entire iCarol Team. Every day we see the positive impact you have on individuals and communities as a whole, and we could not be more honored to play a small part in the amazing work you do. The team at iCarol is excited to see what 2020 holds and hope for continued progress towards a safer, happier, and healthier society thanks to the work you do.
Vice President, Operations
If you want to witness one of the most challenging yet also most rewarding aspects of helpline work, look to the major holidays. Centers that operate 24/7/365 experience the challenge of staying open all the time and being there for help seekers even on major religious and civic holidays. It can be tough to staff these days, and hard for staff and volunteers to spend a special holiday away from friends and family, but ultimately knowing that you helped someone in their time of need makes the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.
So what kinds of calls (or chats or texts!) do such services receive on these major holidays?
Hello from a familiar voice
At any given hotline it’s fairly common to have a population of people both in and outside their communities for whom the helpline is a part of this person’s support network. These folks rely on the helpline as a support system for a number of reasons; limited social and familial relationships, daily coping with mental illness or disabilities, loneliness, or someone simply had a very successful interaction that keeps them coming back for support. Regardless of the reason, helplines should take this caller loyalty as a compliment and endorsement. And you’ll likely hear from these same people on the holidays as well, either to check-in and talk like they normally would, or often with an added “Thank you for being there.”
More than a handful of times I can recall answering the phone on a major holiday and the person on the other end was baffled by the sound of another human voice. “Oh…hello? Are you a real person?” or “Oh wow, you guys are there today!” Often they were prepared to have to leave a message or were just testing the line. It was nice to hear someone pleasantly surprised that they could speak to another person on a day where so much was going on and so many other services are closed, and it usually made me feel like I was in the right place that day.
I need a meal/toy for my child/counselor/shelter/etc.
These calls can be a challenge because for many situations, the help seeker isn’t going to be able to get help that day. As mentioned above, many services are closed and it can be tough to give a person referrals but know that their situation may remain in limbo until the holiday has passed. Thankfully in my experience there were at least a handful of non-profits or religious institutions who were open and providing things like hot meals on many holidays, and even those who had last-minute toy giveaways for families with children who hadn’t signed up for such programs in advance. And, even when the referred service isn’t open, you’re able to at least provide empathy and hope which can make a world of difference.
Crises don’t take a day off
For many people, holidays are more stressful than they are delightful, and actually present a recipe for crisis. Tensions that were simmering below the surface can easily rise up when a person is under stress. And while for most people family gatherings are a happy occasion, for others these get-togethers can easily result in outbursts or even violence. Of course this can happen in a group setting or to someone who is alone. After all, a holiday is just another day, presenting all the same hardships as the day before. There is nothing special about a holiday that can create a foolproof barrier against a crisis or suicidal thoughts — making it all the more critical that someone be available to help talk things through or intervene in some way.
I want to help
Holidays that put a focus on gratitude and generosity will bring out the best in people. For many, the spirit of giving is coursing through them so much that they’re looking for a last minute opportunity to volunteer somewhere so they can give back to others in need. Unfortunately for these generous people, most organizations have long since filled their need for volunteers on the actual holiday, plus there are application processes and/or training that make it infeasible to accept these spur of the moment offers of volunteerism. Luckily these folks are usually willing to accept referrals to the many organizations in their area that need volunteers year ’round, not just on the holidays, and would hopefully follow through with their plan to help after going through the proper processes.
Holidays are a painful reminder
For many people the holiday itself can be a cause of negative feelings, and they need someone to vent to. Perhaps they have a particularly bad memory associated with the day or time of year, and pain surfaces as a result. This may be a memory from long ago or something that happened much more recently, but anniversaries tend to make us recall these past events and relive the emotions experienced, good or bad. Some people are grieving a lost loved one, and holidays remind them of the empty seat at the table. For others, seeing people enjoying get-togethers with family and friends shines a painful spotlight on their own loneliness or broken relationships. Being the person that was there for them when they needed it most can be very rewarding.
Perhaps the most heartwarming interaction you can have is with the person who calls just to say “Thanks.” Sometimes they’re people who have used your service in the past. Or, it may just be a person who finds out you’re there on a major holiday and recognizes that by sacrificing some of your time, you’re making a positive impact on others. A simple “Thank you” goes such a long way.
During the holidays we know many of you out there will be spending some time apart from your families as you work to serve your communities. On behalf of all of us here at iCarol, thank you for all you do and we wish you a happy holiday season and bright New Year!