Caritas Germany and the Corona outbreak

SchutzmaskeThe facilities are in dire need of more protection gear and masks. / Dzonsli

Being a major actor in the German healthcare and elderly care system, Caritas Germany is at the forefront of the fight against the virus itself. Employees at Caritas hospitals and at the some 3.000 Caritas elderly people’s homes are working under difficult conditions to contain the spread of the disease. The facilities are in dire need of more protection gear and masks. Most especially, elderly people’s homes, facilities for people with handicaps, and services offering at-home care for the elderly are not being allotted enough equipment by the German regional states (which are in charge of the distribution). This means that both patients and staff are at heightened risk of catching the disease. And in fact, in several Caritas facilities patients or/and employees have been infected. There have been casualties, too (we have set up a digital condolence book here - german language).

In the facilities, the pressure on staff is huge

Patients and residents for their part are suffering from isolation and loneliness since visits have been prohibited. Sufficient equipment with protection gear and masks is a pre-requisite for gradually re-opening facilities to visitors. In the mean time, Caritas services are finding ways of reaching out to those affected. Youngcaritas, Caritas Germany’s volunteer platform for young people, has been particularly active in that respect, organising mailing actions for residents of elder people’s homes or giving remote tutorials in handling digital devices, thus allowing people to stay in touch with their loved ones.     

Apart from hospitals and care homes, most other Caritas facilities and services have had to close down to comply with social distancing rules, be it childcare facilities, counselling services for families, for people with addiction or for migrants, homeless shelters, and so on. At the same time, their help is needed more than ever as the pandemic and its consequences hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

Caritas associations all over the country started setting up alternative ways of help

Ausgabe von Essen und Getränken an Bedürftige im FreienCaritas Moers-Xanten

As soon as the lockdown measures were announced (mid-March in most German regional states), Caritas associations all over the country started setting up alternatives, devising ways of getting the help out there. Regular soup kitchens can’t open up for business? Caritas in Munich has rented out food trucks and is handing out meals, in Saerbeck near Muenster volunteers are delivering food packages to people’s homes (for those who have one). Counselling appointments can’t take place? Counsellors make themselves available on the phone or, as has happened in some places, in the open - weather permitting and provided the two parties are no closer than 1.5 meters from each other. Over the past few weeks Caritas Germany's online counselling services have trained hundreds of new counsellors on short notice.

Several hundred thousand volunteers help out at Caritas on a regular basis and they, too, have had to reinvent the way they interact with people in need. Mentors for refugees have switched to messaging and talking on the phone, even sending letters with the mail, instead of meeting with their mentees, for instance. Many volunteers at Caritas are elderly and therefore at risk of catching the disease - in many places they are now the ones getting support from younger people, sometimes even from the people they usually help, in a show of "reverse solidarity".

Financial support for most social services

Caritas Germany also needs to ensure that facilities and services will survive the crisis and stand ready to assist people when life gets back to "normal". The need for assistance will likely be huge as the unavoidable recession takes its toll on households with low income and isolation leave its mark. Social services and facilities, most of which do not generate any revenue at the moment, have to still be around after the crisis and be able to then cater for these needs. Thankfully, the German government has acted swiftly and pledged financial support for most social services in the months to come. Intensive political work by Caritas Germany played a key role in achieving this support. That way, Caritas Germany will hopefully still be able to "see a need and act on it" post-Corona - true to its motto.

Check out latest news on Caritas Germany handling the pandemic here: Corona news ticker (german language).