Most social services continue to be provided as they were before the outbreak, but some restrictions have had to be implemented.
Provision of warm meals to the most vulnerable
Four soup kitchens and four warm food distribution sites continue to operate in Riga as they did before, observing all hygiene and safety requirements. Food is served to be taken away in one's own containers and social distance of two meters between beneficiaries is to be observed. Disinfectant and information posters about COVID-19 are distributed throughout. Riga municipal police monitors all these places. Soup kitchens provide 650 servings per day. On April 1, four new warm food distribution sites opened providing about 500 food servings per day.
Quarantine has been introduced in Riga shelter and work is carried out in increased security, observing strict hygiene norms for residents and staff. A total of 603 homeless or people in crisis situations stay in Riga shelter and 5 other organisations that had been contracted by the municipality. Eighty-six people stay in the 24-hour wards. Employees have been provided with equipment, including respirators, face masks, and gloves. Protective face shields are soon to be delivered. Only regular beneficiaries are allowed to stay at the Riga Shelter and Day Centre, while new users are admitted from hospital wards or after quarantine. Social distancing measures are implemented across the facilities with a focused on supporting service users on the importance of observing social distance and hygiene norms.
Local long-term care facilities
These facilities are focusing on protecting residents and staff health. At the start of their shift, employees are checked for any signs of illness. Residents meals are distributed to their rooms observing social distancing rules. Additional disinfectants, detergents and personal protective equipment have been purchased- disposable bathrobes, masks, respirators, disposable pants, aprons, hats, and gloves. External visitors are not allowed, but individual classes or small groups take place observing the required social distancing.
A system of separate rooms has been set up for isolating residents returning from hospitals. Premises are cleaned, ventilated, disinfected with ultraviolet lamps. As residents are not allowed to do their shopping outside the premises, the canteen’s hours have been extended and so the choice of products available. A system of remote communication has been set up for employees and transportation of residents is implemented only when absolutely necessary and closely monitored, ensuring that minibuses are thoroughly disinfected.
Impact of the crisis in Riga’s social services
Riga usually provides 54 different social services to its residents. During this crisis situation, 11 are being provided remotely and 15 have been terminated because it is not possible to secure their remote provision. There are regular on-line meetings with home care providers who provide home care to more than 6,000 clients. So far, home care has continued to be provided without any major complication or delay, though there have been residents or clients themselves who wished to limit the number of caregiver visits or temporarily refuse care.
There are concerns in residential facilities in relation to residents or staff falling ill. There is regular communication between nursing homes and hospitals about the different scenarios. In order to motivate carers to work and to ensure equal access to public transport, home care workers from organisations contracted by the municipality can use public transport free of charge.
The municipality has started to identify premises where they can place families and employees that may need isolation; for example, hotels that would be willing to cooperate if their premises are required for this purpose. Amendments to legislation have been prepared to ensure that the municipality can purchase social services and other services relaxing some clauses in public procurement legislation. The municipality is regularly consulting the national crisis centre to support employees from service providers who may become infected.
Riga Social Services Office only provides face-to-face services in urgent cases. Instead, guidelines have been prepared for professionals working in home visits of families at risk and for home care providers. Social work specialists regularly call their clients and visits are only carried when there are suspicions of high safety risks. Professionals committee meetings have been replaced with questionnaires and video-conferences.
Foreign students in Riga can apply for a crisis benefit grant during the COVID-19 crisis
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Riga City Council will grant benefits also to foreign students who have remained in Latvia, who study remotely and who do not have the means to provide basic needs.
Only those foreign students who, due to an emergency situation, are unable to provide for their basic needs and whose declared place of residence is in the territory of Riga municipality can remotely turn to the Riga Social Service for assistance. The amount of crisis benefit is EUR 128.00 per person.
In order to be eligible for the crisis benefit, a foreign student, like other residents of the municipality, has to prepare a written application in the official state language (Latvian) describing the situation related to the declared emergency situation during the spread of Covid-19 and attach documents, which confirm the occurrence of a crisis situation, as well as gives the evidence that it is not possible to solve financial difficulties with other resources.
Counselling services to young people, schoolchildren and families
Public health specialists at Riga municipality Welfare department have created a special e-mail account to provide an online opportunity for young persons to ask questions and receive answers on the issues which are topical for them at this moment. Based on information received from psychologists and other specialists a conclusion has been made that young people experience severe difficulties because of the emergency situation and isolation. It is already clear that this target group will have important psycho emotional problems after the end of COVID crisis.
Public health specialists at Riga municipality also provide online counselling to schoolchildren and their parents via e-mails about various aspects of public health issues. This kind of service is also widely used in addiction prevention counselling, counselling for internet addicts and gambling addicts.
Volunteer call centre for seniors continues its operation
In Riga, the Volunteer call centre for seniors which is run by and for seniors continues its operation. The call centre was established four years ago and at the present moment it is used even more than previously. The public health specialists at Riga municipality support work of the call centre by taking care about the calls as well in this emergency situation. The call centre has an important role in managing stress and anxiety of elderly people.