From NSA Bethesda Public Affairs
When it was time to lockdown as a result of Coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic response, many of the customer-oriented services on Naval Support Activity Bethesda had to be reduced or stopped.
At first, the installation Military and Family Support Center's two dozen employees had to cut their services due to most of their client and customer meetings taking place face-to-face.
According to MFSC Director Bob Ford, however, that changed within about two weeks.
After receiving permission from higher headquarters, they adapted and accelerated a plan that had been in the works to expand access to their services; they would go virtual.
“The pandemic caused us to move forward more quickly in developing virtual services, many of which have been discussed for several years,” he explains, “and some of which have been in limited use for some time, such as webinars. We are still a customer facing organization, but we are learning to take the classroom to the student, and I expect the participation in these types of programs to continue to increase well past the 'COVID era.'”
The positive impact of that decision has been noticeable. Despite the offices being effectively closed, MFSC has still handled about 500-600 interactions per week in referrals, counseling, and classes.
While he doesn’t have exact numbers, Ford says he believes that’s an increase, and he says it’s attributable mainly to one thing.
“I credit the increase to availability. Driving on the beltway is tough, and then you have to deal with parking on the base. If I’m able to sit in my living room and get the training [MFSC offers] that way and I don’t have to mess with the commute, that’s one hour out of my day instead of three.”
That availability has served their mandatory programs well. Ford says one of those is tied to the Transition Assistance Program or TAP.
“We do a program from TAP called Capstone - it has always been done in person to make sure a participant’s paperwork is in order. It hasn’t gone away and is still a requirement. The region helped get all TAP Managers trained on doing this service virtually. As a result, we have never really stopped this service.”
Due to the success of the changes, Ford says they will continue to provide of this type of access beyond the COVID-19 response.
“We’re happy we’re able to reach clients we may not have been able to reach otherwise. The needs from our military family are being met. When we come back [after COVID-19] we’ll be available for those customers who still come in for face-to-face service and I expect we’ll pick up some new ones virtually.”