In the eight years that Puzzle Pieces has been serving this community, this is by far the most difficult time we have faced. More challenging than launching our nonprofit in 2012 and relocating our campus in 2019, surviving the Covid-19 crisis has proven to be our biggest obstacle. And while we are confident that we will overcome this months-long hurdle, we believe it is important to share with you our struggles as we strive to continue our services for those with intellectual disabilities.
The bottom line: We are open, but we are not OK.
Puzzle Pieces has taken a significant financial hit. Of course once we realized our campus would be closed, we cut as many expenses as possible, which included temporarily laying off employees and reducing costs wherever possible. But with our services primarily funded through Medicaid, our budget largely consists of our clients’ federally-funded health insurance coverage. When social distancing restrictions closed our campus, services essentially ceased, as did our ability to generate that revenue. Since our March closure, Puzzle Pieces saw a 33 percent decrease in monthly revenue. Also, in the four months since Covid-19 hit the U.S., we were forced to cancel five fundraisers that account for more than $60,000 of our operating budget.
We did apply for and receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration. This forgivable loan amounted to 14 percent of our operating budget. This combined with our fiscal responsibility since opening in 2012 means we had enough reserves to stay afloat during this time of crisis. It took our board and executive director countless hours navigating every decision surrounding our current situation in order to protect our future. They still fear that the true financial effects of Covid-19 on Puzzle Pieces will not be felt until September or October.
During our temporary closure, we continued to serve 27 clients within their homes or in our staffed residential homes. In order to reduce the risk of exposure to them and meet healthy at home guidelines, we saw a 134 percent increase to our residential monthly expenses. The main contributing factor to this increase was employee overtime, which was needed in order to keep our clients safe.
“During this time I have and still carry a lot of stress knowing it’s my responsibility to ensure the safety of our clients and staff, while also remaining fiscally responsible as an organization,” said Puzzle Pieces Executive Director Amanda Owen. “Although I watched our budget closely, I made the decision to do what it takes to care for our clients. Often that meant 72 hour shifts for my employees in order to reduce exposure risk to our at risk clients.”
Now that restrictions are lifting, we are allowed to have a limited number of clients on campus again, although this comes nowhere close to the 167 people we serve in total. In fact, the reduced number of clients under current guidelines still equates to a 28 percent decrease in monthly revenue. And now added to our daily expenses are supplies necessary for the extreme cleaning and sanitation we have to perform on our building every hour. Obviously, safety for our clients is a top concern and we believe these measures are necessary, but they do come with significant financial burden. To date, we have seen a 58% increase each month in cleaning supplies, gloves, and masks. We are extremely fortunate for community partners like Wendell Foster who helped us secure gloves when all other vendors were sold out, and Lowe’s and Empire Supply, who donated masks and Mark One Manufacturing for donating sanitizer. We also had a great number of Puzzle Pieces’ family and friends volunteer time to maintain the yards and landscaping at our residential homes and our campus, which helped us save money.
“We have done everything in our power to ‘right-size’ our organization in expenses while not sacrificing our number one priority - the quality of services to our clients. But, this Covid-19 environment leaves us with increased expenses and decreased revenue opportunities that will continue to force tough decisions,” said Amy Jackson, co-chair of the Puzzle Pieces board of directors.
The bottom line: We are open, but finances are extremely tight.
The next challenge related to Covid-19 is right around the corner -- the back-to-school effect. We have a dedicated staff that truly puts our clients' needs above their own. They love their work, and see our clients more as family than a work responsibility. But with local school districts announcing hybrid plans for students returning to school this year, our staff will continue to be forced to choose between caring for our clients and caring for their own children. We understand the difficulty of that choice, and support our staff 100 percent. But we also have to balance that concern with finding consistent, trained employees to meet the needs of our clients.
And just as our staff is struggling with the school district’s potential hybrid plan, our clients’ families are as well. As a working parent, finding childcare for days that children will not be in school is a major challenge. Now imagine your child has an intellectual disability and requires specific care. We are determined to meet the needs of our clients’ families and remain as flexible as possible, while still following all health guidelines set for us by the state and federal governments.
The bottom line: We are open, but our staffing is limited.
We advocate every day for those with intellectual disabilities in our community, and we believe that by sharing the current reality for Puzzle Pieces, we are still working toward that mission. This is a scary time. We now show up every day to a campus with a fraction of the clients we typically serve and have safety measures in place that we never imagined would be necessary.
But we are making the pieces fit.
We launched the Owen Autism Center earlier this month. Was it the best time? No. But it’s needed for our community. And the look of relief on parents’ faces when they dropped off their child was the only reward we needed. It’s what keeps us going.
And it’s that feeling that keeps us pushing forward and dreaming of what’s next for Puzzle Pieces. Right now, we are brainstorming a new fundraiser -- one that Owensboro will love, be entertained by and meets Covid-19 restrictions. We are determined to make our current circumstances work, think outside the box, and do what it takes to support our clients.
We know that we are not the only nonprofit or business that is suffering during this unprecedented time. Owensboro is blessed with resources that serve a wide variety of causes -- Puzzle Pieces is just one small part of that big network. But we believe that this is the time to be honest and vulnerable -- qualities we ask for in our clients. The decisions we make now and how we survive the Covid-19 pandemic impacts our community, both short-term and long-term. So just as we would share our success, we also want to share our struggle.
The bottom line: Our nonprofit is struggling, but we believe by being transparent and open about those challenges makes us a better organization and one that the community can rally behind.
We thank you for your support - past, present and future - both in financial and non-financial support that has helped us get to where we are today. While we shared this information to educate the public on our current situation, we very much appreciate anyone that feels compelled to donate to Puzzle Pieces. Your financial support directly impacts client services, helping us achieve our mission of serving those with intellectual disabilities. Please click here to donate.