A Message to the Fountain House Community re: Coronavirus

Posted on March 16, 2020

Dear Fountain House Community,

In the past days and weeks, Fountain House and its COVID-19 Task Force have been monitoring and has progressively ramped up our response to the Coronavirus (aka COVID-19) pandemic, which has reached our shores and now our City. As a doctor, public health professional, and epidemiologist, my level of concern has grown steadily throughout the last weeks. We know what can work to curb the epidemic – testing, contact tracing, and social distancing – as we have seen especially in South Korea, Japan and China. But we have also seen the challenges in countries like Italy and even cities like Seattle, where action was delayed and testing not widely available.  

While we cannot control the decisions of our elected leaders, we can control those of our community. My number one responsibility, and the number one responsibility we have to each other, is to keep one another safe and healthy. And what this epidemic has shown me is that the only way to do that for our community is through aggressive social distancing and by asking our members and staff to remain at home. I know how difficult this is to accept, as the virus is striking at the very heart of our model and what makes it special: bringing people together to rebuild lives and break the bonds of social isolation. The cruel irony of this is not lost on me, but at the end of the day, we must ensure that people are protected; coronavirus puts us all at risk of that not being the case. 

As a society, we are faced with an unprecedented challenge in the modern era, which as an organization, is requiring unprecedented decisions, never before taken in the 70+ year history of Fountain House. I’m writing today to let you know that after much deliberation, but little delay, we have decided to close the clubhouse buildings at 47th Street and the Bronx, and transition our services to entirely digital/online and home-based services. Staff has already begun to draw down and begin telecommuting from home, and over the coming days, you will see hours and staffing restricted, until Thursday 3/19 at 1pm (after lunch) when all members and non-essential staff will be sent home, and asked to not return to the clubhouse until further notice. It is critical, for your well-being and for that of our clubhouse and the wider communities, that you adhere to this guidance and practice strict social distancing in your own life. 

While our physical locations will not be offering services, we remain 100% committed to maintaining our community over the next weeks and perhaps months as this epidemic unfolds. Over the coming days you will see the official launch of “Virtual FH” - an online community of Fountain House members and staff organized into a virtual clubhouse, on platforms such as Facebook, Slack, Zoom, WebEx, and others. Some of these platforms are already up and running, and will be staffed by Fountain House social practitioners. These are digital communities that will allow members and staff to connect, express themselves, and build and maintain relationships during this difficult and physically isolating time.

For members without access to digital platforms, we have arranged for prepaid cell phones to be available. And as of Wednesday, we will also move our Warm Line to 24/7, with a new number 917-795-8309. Staff will be conducting proactive daily outreach calls to ensure that members do not become disconnected, and for those members who depend on Fountain House for life sustaining services such as meals and medications, we will be expanding home delivery of meals on wheels and other services via Reach Out, Care Management, and our JackRabbit social enterprise. The Sidney Baer clinic also remains open. However, members should call their worker or doctor if they develop any medical concerns or symptoms, before going into the clinic directly.

This is a difficult time for all of us, especially our members that depend so much on Fountain House for stability, community, and support. We will do our best to hold our community together during this challenging moment, but it will require all of us investing in each other and coming together as one. The act of social distancing is actually a great act of generosity and community-building, as this decision could save the life of someone in Fountain House or even beyond. So as we separate physically over the next weeks, we must come together in community and solidarity with one another and with our brothers and sisters around the city, nation, and the world, embracing our shared humanity and secure in the knowledge that we will get through this, together, and emerge stronger for it.

As ever, we at Fountain House are here for you in service and support, and only a phone call or message away. Please reach out and connect.

Wishing everyone safety, health, and strength,

Ashwin Vasan, M.D., Ph.D
President and CEO, Fountain House
Assistant Professor, Mailman School of Public Health and Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons at Columbia University

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