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New survey shows community is concerned; officials taking steps to calm anxiety

Tom Henry

A new survey indicates the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a great deal of anxiety among Fort Wayne residents — and not just about their health. Local official offered reassurance Tuesday those concerns are being addressed by the public and private sectors alike.

According to the Community Readiness Survey of 4,967 people between March 12 and March 24 prepared by the Parkview Mirro Center, 44 percent said they could only sustain their households for one or two weeks if they stopped getting paid, with 25 percent able to sustain their households for three to four weeks and 31 percent for five or more weeks. Besides having significantly more chronic disease in the household, those same 44 percent who will be challenged in one or two weeks are:

• Significantly more concerned about paying for prescription medication, accessing healthcare and finding/purchasing food.

• Significantly more likely to seek support from government for healthcare (29 percent), utilities (27 percent), and food/water (22 percent).

• Significantly more worried about purchasing prescription medications in the next 60 days for mental health (47 percent), blood pressure (38 pressure) and diabetes (19 percent).

• Significantly less likely to have an established healthcare provider, health insurance and the entire household vaccinated for influenza.

Food (98 percent) and shelter (85 percent) were the highest-ranked basic needs from all respondents, with medicine (72 percent), healthcare (68 percent), connection with people (67 percent) and cell phone availability (66 percent) close behind.

The answers are being used by the Allen County Department of Health and other partners to identify needs within the community and responses to some of those needs were outlined in a press conference Tuesday featuring Mayor Tom Henry, the Allen County Commissioners and others. They include:

City Utilities

Earlier this month, City Utilities suspended utility service disconnects for non-payment. In the field, during this crisis, City Utilities has suspended meter change-outs, including previously scheduled appointments, except in emergencies. It is important for customers who are not able to pay or pay their full amount to contact customer service about their situation and work out a payment plan. Customers can use the kiosk located outside of Citizens Square and off of the parking lot at 200 East Berry St. to make payments or call customer service to discuss an account.

NIPSCO

NIPSCO also recently announced that it has voluntarily suspended shutoffs for nonpayment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For further assistance, all customer care at 1-800-4-NIPSCO or visit NIPSCO.com. In addition, the NiSource Charitable Foundation, the charitable foundation supported by NIPSCO’s parent company NiSource Inc., announced that it has committed $400,000 to the American Red Cross in Indiana as part of its overall $1 million donation to help provide COVID-19 relief support across the company’s seven-state service territory.

Indiana Michigan Power

Recognizing the need for Personal Protection Equipment in communities we serve, I&M is donating 10,000 masks and 10,000 individual nitrile gloves from its inventory to health-care workers and first responders throughout the areas it serves. Additionally, the American Electric Power Foundation is donating $1.5 million in emergency funds to support basic human needs and help address the hardships faced by customers and communities. Of that, $240,000 will be distributed to appropriate non-profit agencies in the I&M service territory. I&M has also temporarily suspended all service disconnections for non-payment. All customers will ultimately be responsible for paying their bill and are urged to try to keep their accounts current. If a customer is going to have trouble paying their bill, they should contact I&M at 1-800-311-4634 or through Facebook or Twitter to discuss payment options.

Banking

STAR Financial Bank is working to provide short term loan relief options for retail customers if needed. Additionally, in collaboration with the Small Business Administration, STAR is looking to facilitate several assistance programs to commercial and small business clients.

Residents are encouraged to check with their respective bank to see what services and help may be available.

Calling the survey results “enlightening and surprising,” Commissioner Rich Beck noted it’s important to address residents’ uncertainty because it can lead to stress and anxiety that can exacerbate medical challenges.

“I’m encouraged that our utility and banking partners understand the significance of this pandemic and are responding accordingly,” Henry said in a statement. “By working together, we’ll get through this and be a stronger and more united community.”

Beck said the commissioners will provide about $200,000 to pay half of the monthly bill of Allen County Regional Water and Sewer District customers, probably in April or May.

Officials Tuesday also encouraged healthy residents to donate blood, if possible, through their local American Red Cross location.

The public is encouraged to visit www.cityoffortwayne.org/covid-19, where a community resource page has been created that contains information about COVID-19, local government responses and other organizations that serve the public and how collectively there is help available to those who may need assistance.

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