When confronted with a crisis, there are several paths you can take. Do nothing and your fate is determined by others and the overall dynamics of the situation. Strive to keep everything the same, and you risk being unprepared to deal with environmental shifts that become our new reality. Or, you can leverage opportunities the crisis presents to move your organization forward, driving new, innovative ideas and methods to the forefront.

Lisa Dominisse, president/CEO of Family Service Society Inc. (FSSI) in Marion, Indiana, reflects on the past few months and explains how she has assessed the current environment, and taken command to meet COVID-19 challenges while also making systemic changes within her organization to strengthen it for the future.

I’ve been considering how the forced quarantine has provided opportunities for me, as a leader, to gain traction and courage around things I knew needed to be done but I had not really wanted to fight the battle. As an example, three years ago, I told my team I wanted to set ourselves up to be completely virtual so that we could pivot as the needs of our clients shifted. At that time, I was looking through the lens of access to care. We completed a project with a school system that never really got legs but dipped our toe in the water. Because that project was challenging, I kept hitting resistance in my team to invest in what we needed to provide effective telehealth for our behavioral health clients. COVID-19 forced us to pivot and go completely virtual within 48 hours. It was literally that quick and the team was amazed how quickly we were able to shift. Emergency response funds provided us with the financial investment we needed to strengthen our digital presence and we’ve had great success and a high rate of adoption by patients. 

As an offshoot of going virtual, we were forced to assess our idle assets—do we really need a building? What other technology and software do we already have and are not leveraging? What have we outgrown? This evaluation taught us we have capacity in places we didn’t recognize. For example, our electronic medical record comes with a patient portal (free of charge) that we had never implemented. I had been bombarded with requests to purchase yet another software program to provide a patient portal when, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, it was with us all the time.

Another example is program elimination. We’ve known for some time that our batterers program was ineffective, and that research bears out prevention of domestic and intimate partner violence is a better investment. During the pandemic, our board has solidified their stance to go deeper in service to children and youth for bigger impact. We’ve narrowed our primary scope to kids and youth age 5 to 18 and their families (however defined). Releasing the batterers program became easy and we provided a transition plan and alternatives for those currently enrolled. Interestingly, our prevention and services around domestic violence have received more funds than ever before in grant awards and donations since announcing this change.

And finally, we chose to not re-apply for the Healthy Families contract for our county. This is a program that has a lot of competition in the marketplace and we live in a rural county with a rapidly declining birth rate. A team that was 10 strong only five years ago is down to only a few who are easily able to manage the few families who agree to the free programming. This program was a heart strings program for many in our community because it is a highly valued prevention program focused on mothers and newborn babies up to age three. Not reapplying for the program frees up time and resources for us to focus on how to better support those in our more defined niche.

While these decisions certainly were not easy, nor representative of all the changes, my team and I have known for a long time they needed to be made.  While I’m writing this from my perspective, these decisions were all about “WE” and were done with a very talented and motivated team of leaders at FSSI.  I could not be more proud of the leadership shown across all divisions. The team has been brave.  Quarantine provided the clarity, the courage, and the necessity to clear the way for innovation that will better serve those we choose and to create a deeper and lasting impact on our community.

There is no doubt that Dominisse’s actions are effectively leading FSSI through the “new normal” of the COVID-19 crisis to the “next, better normal.” She has also demonstrated that difficult situations can spur needed change. And as FFSI is now proving, determined leadership and skillful teamwork can produce positive achievements even during the most challenging of times.

Share Your COVID-19 Organizational Leadership Story

Join the discussion online or email us and let fellow Alliance members know how you and your organization have had to innovate and pivot as a result of the pandemic. Your creative ideas and clever methods may be able to significantly help others outside of the communities you serve.

Once logged into the Alliance’s online community, the discussion will be in the left-hand sidebar of your dashboard. All staff at Alliance member organizations may access the discussion and online learning community by creating an account. 

Access the Alliance’s COVID-19 resources page.


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