Dear Fellow Staff—

Happy New Year again, and I am confident that 2021 will be a great year and, at some point in the not-to-distant future, we will be able to put COVID-19 behind us. To do that, we all have to continue to play our part in staying safe, follow our safety guidelines and please keep wearing your masks!

Regarding the virus, we are off to a good start at NCIA. We have two houses on quarantine and under five staff out and all are asymptomatic. I am still keeping my fingers crossed but as of now it looks like our staff followed our “Safe In All Settings” protocols during the Holiday season. Thank you!

The next step is understanding the importance of getting the COVID vaccine. As mentioned previously, I recognize it is a personal decision, but I urge everyone to consult with their physicians and follow the advice of renowned medical experts. A release spearheaded by the Autism Society of America and signed by over two dozen national agencies that work with our populations states: “ We encourage our stakeholders to receive the COVID-19 vaccine…[it] will make it significantly less likely you will get COVID-19…and will help protect vulnerable people around you.” They believe that widespread vaccination could lead to an end to remote learning, resumption of regular therapy, support and respite services, and may allow individuals living in group homes to see their families and friends again.

We were just informed by DDA, that NCIA employees who are Certified Medical Technicians (a majority of our Direct Service Professionals) are eligible now to sign up and get the vaccination. Baltimore County Health officials are vaccinating health care workers and first responders at a clinic set up at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. It is a simple process and I urge you to give it serious consideration. We are hoping that our individuals, other NCIA employees working in our homes and our teachers will be eligible to receive vaccines by mid-February. Please be on the lookout for updates from Stephen Cooke, our Communications Director.

Speaking of our Direct Service Professionals, I am excited to report that as of January 1, 2021 NCIA is making changes in our hourly pay rate. NCIA will be granting hourly pay increases to virtually all Direct Service Professionals and Job Coaches. These pay increases will be based on tenure with the company, as well as increases given us by our contracting agencies. They are the most significant increases in NCIA history.

Additionally, as you are aware, NCIA has been paying a COVID stipend for each payroll in which staff remain compliant with our COVID rules regarding face protection and PPE gear. The stipend began at $2.50/hour in April, and was reduced to $1.25 when our new fiscal year began in July 2020. Despite our substantial payroll increase due to the raises, we will still maintain the stipend at $1.00/hour through June 30, 2021 at which time it will again be evaluated by our fiscal department.

On the administrative front, over the past couple of years we have all heard of “cybersecurity attacks”, in which personal and professional information is compromised. This week, under the leadership of Sophia Lawson, our Compliance Director, NCIA began a thorough review of our cybersecurity systems. This process will take several months, involve an experienced IT firm and will be monitored by our internal Risk Assessment Committee. The goal is to ensure that we continue providing a high level of safety in our computer systems. One sign of a thriving company is to continually look at any area that can be improved and strengthened. The better we are at keeping clients’ personal information secure, the better we can provide ongoing services to those who depend on us.

On a national front, the events in Washington this past week seemed surreal. Watching a crowd of rioters desecrate the symbol of our freedom and attack our democracy was saddening. As one commentator said, it was “…a gut-wrenching display of what might have been the first time that a riot was not the language of the unheard, but rather of the unhappy. When officers in riot gear ringed the perimeters of Black Lives Matter demonstrations for racial justice, no such ring stood to protect our democracy under threat.”

We know that 2021 will be a year of substantial change as we try to define what the “new normal” will look like, both in our personal and professional lives. With faith and commitment to our purpose and founding principles, NCIA, our programs and our employees will have a great year.