August 19, 2020
For more than six months, COVID-19 has been the big story for everyone. Nothing is more important than the safety of the 18,000 children, adults, and families who depend on us for the help and support they need to live healthier, happier lives, and the 1,400 dedicated staff who provide that help and support. From day one of this crisis, we have worked to establish safe protocols and procedures and continually modified the way we provide our services in order to fulfill our mission.
Our organization-wide response includes daily meetings with senior leadership, the shift of more than 90% of staff to remote work arrangements (including greatly expanded telehealth capacity), reconfiguring of the residential and educational buildings occupied by our youth, enhanced cleaning and sanitation in all facilities, and strict safety protocols for those staff who continue to provide in-person care. Specific efforts include:
February 21 - March 6, 2020
The Big Story: Every week or so, you hear about another big company announcing a data breach of customer or client information that affects tens or hundreds of thousands of people. It happens so often that it’s easy to get desensitized to them—until it happens to you. If your credit card gets hacked, it’s invariably stressful, but most banks will work with you and make things right in a matter of days. It’s different when it comes to personal information like health records or identity information. When that type of data falls into the wrong hands, it can have long-term implications. It’s absolutely impossible for modern institutions to function in society without databases, and those databases are vulnerable to both human error and malicious intent. Those who do the best job of protecting their data are the ones who’ll fare the best in a changing world. Information security is vital to our long-term health at Northern Rivers, and that’s why we need to focus so much of our energy on it.
In other news…
With about six weeks left before the state budget is due and most eyes are on issues like Medicaid spending and marijuana legislation, it’s important to remember the other, less-flashy topics that have the potential to affect lives throughout the state. School aid is down, agriculture funding is down, net neutrality provisions are in, and a $3 billion environmental bond was proposed. It’s a huge, complex proposal (and one that will undoubtedly undergo huge changes in the weeks ahead), and we think every New Yorker would be better served by understanding it better: Read more:
We promise not to give weekly MRT II updates, but we have to join the multitudes in expressing concern about the possibility of public hearings being held in such a way as to discourage public participation (or even attention). The first was put on with about 24-hours notice, and there has not as of yet been any sort of concerted effort to inform the general public (as one in three New Yorkers utilized Medicaid benefits) about their right to know, much less their right to participate. Read more:
Random Acts of Kindness Day was earlier this week, we learned while scrolling through our Twitter feed at a stoplight on our way into work this morning. When a honk from the car behind us alerted us we had the green, we stifled our impulse to curse into our rearview mirror, so we feel like we did our part. Seriously, though, kindness is one of our most precious natural resources, and every single act makes the world a better place. So return your shopping carts, hold the door for the person behind you, and don’t text and drive!
A recent sale means that locally-founded national record store chain (remember those?) FYE will no longer be headquartered in Albany, though the stores will remain open under a new brand. Gone are the days when our region was known as the home of GE, ALCO, or the Troy Trojans (who were a Major League Baseball team!). Now it feels like we’re known as, well, what? The hub of state government? Tech Valley? How do we identify ourselves, other than by our mini hot dogs—and how much does that matter? Read more:
Congratulations to Chris Gibson on being named president of Siena College. Gibson’s is a fascinating journey, from a childhood in Kinderhook to college at Siena, then Army tours in the first Gulf War and Afghanistan, teaching positions at several prestigious universities, then the U.S. House of Representatives. Now he’s back at Siena, and we think that serves as a welcome reminder that politics isn’t a life sentence. Read more:
We won’t see you next week, as we (yes, the entire blog), are going on vacation. We’ll be back on March 13!
February 14, 2020
The Big Story: The whole world is watching the spread of the Coronavirus. Here, we look on in shock as thousands of people are trapped on a cruise ship, nearly two hundred quarantined on a military base in California, and the mysterious death of an RPI student brought on panicked speculation in our own backyard. This is a public health crisis, and there’s a lot that can be learned from our reactions. Sadly, misinformation spreads more quickly than any virus, and bad decisions (even those made with good intentions) all too often make bad situations even worse. Yes, crisis response requires quick thinking, but it also requires thorough analysis of data, an understanding of the repercussions of any actions, a resistance to knee-jerk behaviors, and most importantly a degree of compassion. When you get crisis response wrong, you compound the negative effects—whether you’re talking about a health scare or complex societal challenges.
In other news…
The statewide plastic bag ban is about to take effect, and it’s that rare type of legislation that can unite people on both sides of the issue—unite them against it, that is. We’d like to think that everyone, no matter what their ideological position, is in favor of protecting the planet. We’re also cognizant that well-intentioned legislation can have unforeseen negative consequences. Case in point: A recent county ban on Styrofoam packaging is no doubt good for the environment—but what if you’re a nonprofit operating a soup kitchen and barely staying afloat, and the cost of the plates and bowls you serve in just quadrupled? Read more:
New York State’s Medicaid Redesign Team II (rejected title: Medicaid Strikes Back) held its first public meeting in Albany, a meeting disrupted by a group of protestors concerned that Medicaid cuts will impact their quality of life. Finding $2.5 billion of savings in a little more than a month seems like an impossible task, unless some of the group members are taking work home with them or asking for a little outside help. Any time funding gets cut, someone loses. We, along with every other constituency potentially affected by the team’s proposal, are watching closely. Read more:
Valentine’s Day puts the spotlight on romance and relationships (along with 50% off chocolate on February 15), and that brings up something important that we encounter in our work every day. A lot of our clients are teenagers, and despite the best efforts of parents for generations, teenagers want to date and form relationships. While those in our care may have experienced abuse, neglect, behavioral, or mental health challenges, they’ve also got wants and needs like anyone. Teaching them how to build healthy, respectful relationships is a huge part of our work, and one that doesn’t get enough attention.
Not to get too wonky, but the continuing struggle of the human services sector to receive adequate funding in the state budget has produced something fascinating. For the first time, providers from different service streams—mental health, developmental disabilities, substance abuse recovery, child welfare, and more—have simplified their asks, started working together, and are showing some unity. It’s heartwarming to see these groups displaying the same sort of unity and dedication to the success of others that their direct service providers demonstrate each day. Read more:
More and more chatter is popping up about the possible return of arena football to the Capital Region. We’ve got a long list of fondly-remembered teams around here—the Firebirds, the Patroons, the River Rats, the A-C Yankees—but nothing ever seems to last. We’re not exactly sure why no team has built a sustainable legacy, but we do appreciate everyone who keeps trying. Anybody who attended an Empire game last year will tell you that there’s a hunger for well-presented sports here. Read more:
We’ll see you next week!
February 7, 2020
The Big Story: Winter came back to the Capital Region this week, with most of us waking up Thursday morning to snow, ice, slush, sleet, freezing rain, and whatever other words meteorologists are using for water falling from the sky. After shoveling the walk and brushing off our cars SUVs, then joined the daily traffic grind on roads that were…already plowed, salted, and safe. As a community we all agree that the roads need to be maintained, so we have highway departments and other municipal offices who take care of it. Just like we agree that we need firefighters, police, EMTs, and a whole bunch of other professionals. They’re our safety net. And that’s what the human services sector does, too. We’re the safety net for the poor, the aged, the chronically ill, the abused, the neglected, and the vulnerable. That’s why we’re here, and that’s why we need the same kind of support that all these other necessary institutions get.
And that’s what we told the NYS Assembly: Watch Bill Gettman’s testimony.
In other news…
Each year, the Empire State Winter Games brings hundreds of athletes to venues throughout the North Country to compete in dozens of events. From bobsled to skiing to the biathelon to esports, there’s something for everyone to enjoy—and it’s impossible not to think back to the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid whenever you experience the Games. Events like these are part of what’s great about New York State, and this year’s 40th-annual event was a joy to behold. Read more:
We talk a lot about the importance of reducing stigma around mental health services. And while we do a lot to promote these services for children, young adults, and families, one thing we haven’t focused on is the particular struggles of new mothers. There’s a particular stigma that comes with postpartum depression, and that stigma can prove very dangerous for children and parents. New York City is doing something about it. Read more:
The mess we’re seeing in Iowa serve as a reminder of how important it is for all of us to follow through on our promises. There’s a constant effort to encourage everyone to vote—but if voters don’t have faith in the process, if they don’t trust that their votes count, we’re in an even worse place than we were before. That’s an important lesson to everyone, including us. When you challenge someone to do something, you’ve got to hold up your end. That’s what we owe each other as people.
Looks like Hollywood is coming back to our area, with a new HBO series set to film some scenes in Troy. From “The Place Beyond the Pines” to “Ironweed,” we’ve got a pretty good history of celluloid classics (and non-classics) shot in our own backyard. What’s interesting is that many of of the productions that film here are set in days gone by. Does that make us look classic, or dated? Read more:
Speaking of Hollywood, the passing of Amsterdam’s favorite son Kirk Douglas brought about a raft of stories on his life and legacy. It’s a little unfortunate that it’s often not until someone dies that our culture looks back on their great works, but it’s important to appreciate things from the past all the same. Read more:
We’ll see you next week!
January 31, 2020
The Big Story: Just about every day at the NYS Capitol from now through what feels like the end of time you’ll see gaggles of passionate advocates, well-funded lobbyists representing an incredible array of special interests, and hungry journalists with cameras on sticks. It’s New York’s annual mad dash to convince our elected officials that all these interests get the funding they’re looking for. The funny thing is, you sometimes see the same people day after day—but they’re asking for something different each day (and some days they’re not quite sure what they’re representing). It’s chaotic, stressful, and fascinating, and worth checking out for anyone who’s looking to understand how politics really work.
In other news…
The Capital Region arose as one to defend our gastronomic landscape in response to NY Asssemblymember Yuh-Line Niou’s tweet about Albany food choices being “trash” (insert Rochester garbage plate joke here). We’re trying to resist making the observation that the only people around the Capitol with serious concerns about food are those advocating for the homeless and hungry—everybody else seems pretty well-fed. Snark aside, we’ll stand up for Smith’s of Cohoes. Read more:
We’re all so busy that sometimes it’s hard to take a step back and look at some of the really incredible, world-changing innovation that comes from the Capital Region. Vital Vio, a startup in Troy, just signed a deal with Delta Airlines to place their innovative, bacteria-killing lighting technology to airplanes. Read more:
Why are organizations like Northern Rivers part of the 2020 Census push? We represent the disenfranchised and marginalized, the poor, the scared, and the ignored. It seems like a no-brainer—why would anyone want to invest in a national survey of all Americans, then deliberately ensure that lots of people aren’t counted?
The Buffalo News is one of more than 30 daily papers nationwide being sold by current owner Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffett, et al.) to Lee Enterprises, a national media group that owns hundreds of daily and weekly titles including the Glens Falls Post-Star. Independent, passionate, ethical local journalism is the bedrock of a democratic society, and here’s hoping this move will only strengthen the fourth estate. Read more:
Not to toot our own horn (we’re tooting our own horn), but our CEO recently had a letter published in the Watertown Daily Times about the need for human services investment. This isn’t an Albany issue, or a downstate issue. It’s something that affects every single New Yorker. Read more:
Let’s go Chefs! (That’s great, but who are the Chefs?)
We’ll see you next week!
January 24, 2020
The Big Story: A whole bunch of smart people have said some variation of the following: “The way you spend your money is the true expression of your values.” That’s an instructive sentiment when it comes to budgets, funding, and human behavior in general. In the nonprofit world, we hear all the time that people love what we do and that we have their support. Those words are always nice to hear, but when you take a hard look at were state dollars go, it’s hard not to get a slightly different message. There’s another old saying that comes to mind, especially with the NYS budget just announced—“put your money where your mouth is.”
In other news…
As a society we’re making progress on normalizing mental health as a part of overall health, but there’s still more work to be done. We need to get to a place where mental health treatment is the same as physical health treatment—there’s no shame in going to the doctor for a broken leg, and there shouldn’t be shame in getting help for mental health treatment. We don’t judge someone harshly for limping, so why do we sometimes pause when we see someone struggling with their mental health? Read more:
Everyone deserves to know where they came from. A long-overdue law change means New Yorkers are now able to obtain their preadoptive birth certificates. Reversing an unjust law created in 1936 is a huge step for the dignity of adoptees. Read more:
Freedom of the press is a vital component of society, but being a member of the press comes with a heavy burden. Without credibility, a free press is worth less than nothing. Congratulations to Casey Seiler on ascending to the editorship of the Times Union, and a salute to outgoing editor Rex Smith on a job well done.
It was an honor for us to participate in Schenectady County’s celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our past informs our future; both to us as an organization, and to all of us as a nation. Dr. King’s teachings stand the test of time—something to think about at a time in our history when it seems like talk is cheap and what someone says today is not only forgotten but contradicted tomorrow. Read more:
One of the biggest challenges in our sector is finding loving foster homes for youth in need of temporary care. We won’t sugarcoat it; being a foster parent is hard, and it takes a special person to do it. But there are many kinds of special people, and there seem to be some societal barriers that prevent some great people from opening their homes . . . and it’s not who you’d think. Read more:
The Big Story:
It’s budget season, which means that advocacy groups throughout the state are booking train tickets to Albany, making signs, and setting up displays to try and capture the attention of our government officials. With so many causes competing for attention, who ends up getting heard? And if you’re in our shoes, how much can you devote to advocacy when you’re already burning the midnight oil just to provide services? It’s unfortunate that doing good work isn’t enough on its own. Maybe if we developed some kind of poster.…
In other news…
We love a good tote bag or coffee mug as much as the next nonprofit, but those things aren’t free. There’s value in logo merch, but how do you measure that value? Smart donors are always asking nonprofits how they’re spending their money. How about if you write us a check, we’ll keep the t-shirt and just credit you extra for the donation. Read more:
Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-olds in New York state. We want to scream this from the rooftops: Help is out there. We just need to be able to connect services with people in need. These services cost money, but who’s putting a price on saving lives? Read more:
Everyone’s buzzing about the Major League Baseball sign-stealing controversy, where cutting-edge cameras were used to help players know what opposing teams were going to throw at them. Technology is revolutionizing every industry, including human services. From electronic health records to telemental health, we’re capitalizing on the efficiencies technology can create, but it’s not all wine and roses. Technology presents security and privacy risks, and we’re devoting resources to ensure our clients and our organization stay safe.
We all love a strong economy, but even great things can have downsides. All across New York state, companies are struggling to find and retain qualified workers. From Queensbury to Binghamton to Kingston, employers large and small are competing in an ever-shrinking labor pool. This is a bigger problem than any one employer, or even any one industry. Read more:
Recently we’ve raised a little money by selling off some old agency vehicles that were taken out of service. It’s a creative way to help our bottom line during a time of financial stress. Too bad we don’t have a big crane to sell.…Read more:
The Big Story:
Throughout our industry, providers were surprised and disheartened by theThe Big Story: Throughout our industry, providers were surprised and disheartened by the announcement that the state Health Department would be cutting Medicaid reimbursements by 1 percent across the board. While 1 percent doesn’t seem like a lot, a lot of Medicaidproviders (hospitals, senior care facilities, home health workers, and family services providers—you know, the people who help New York’s most at-risk residents) are already scrambling tomake ends meet. We’ve been saying for a long time that the nonprofit human services industrywas in trouble, and it increasingly feels like we’re headed for a reckoning. Stay tuned.
In other news…
It’s not all doom and gloom. The federal Family First Prevention Services Act, along withsome additional state funding, means desperately needed funding should soon be on the way tohelp place foster children with family members, and that agencies like ours will be able toprovide intensive support. Read more
Cheers to Lee Lounsbury, a former member of our Board of Directors, on being tabbed to headlocal nonprofit Community Caregivers. Under Lee’s direction, adults will be able to safelymaintain their independence, and caregivers will receive more support. Read more
The governor recently signed “design-build” legislation that’s poised to help New York City savea bundle of money on construction projects. We know a little about this topic, as we’re recentlywrapped the construction of a $10 million facility and are well under way on another large-scaleproject. We applaud any legislative step that helps efficiency. Read more
With the new year just underway, we wanted to take a moment to congratulate and thank all ourelected officials. To those just taking their first oath of office, we welcome you. To thosereturned to their positions by the electorate, we welcome you back. Here’s to a successful 2020!National Public Radio recently reported on the disparate resources available to children basedon racial divisions, using Albany as a backdrop. We believe that every child deserves every bitof support that every community can give, and one of our most important tasks is to helpconnect people to opportunities. Read more
We’ll see you next week!