Sompo Care's Work during COVID-19 Pandemic
Kasai: Although we have previous experience of dealing with infectious diseases such as influenza, nothing has made us as nervous as COVID-19 has. During the state of emergency, we paid our frontline staff a special daily bonus of 3,000 yen to show our gratitude to their commitment to continuing service in the face of the risk of infection. When we spoke to our frontline workers, it was clear that they were more concerned about the risk of passing infection to the long-term users of our services rather than their own safety and were making sacrifices in their day-to-day life to minimize the risk. The state of emergency may have ended, but Sompo Care's task force remains in operation across the country at the same high level of alert and is working to minimize the risk of infection, as well as handling contact tracing and isolation when positive cases emerge, and mobilizing support staff.
I feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the Japanese society realize how valuable social care work is. The government's decision to pay care workers the frontline workers’ bonus showed that care workers were appreciated and supported just as much as medical workers, which was a welcome boost to our morale. Our workforce is responding to this support with a renewed determination to step up to the plate. Care workers are committed to providing the best possible frontline service in a challenging situation, and it is paramount that we address problem of the difficult working conditions in the sector.
Due to the risk of coronavirus infection, we are currently asking the families of service users not to visit them. This led to some of the users to worry that their family has died. Recognizing the problem, we have started facilitating online virtual visits, which has been warmly welcomed. This initiative has had an added bonus of making visits easier for families who live far away and had not previously been able to visit as often as they would have liked. We intend to continue trying new initiatives like this, not only as we tackle novel coronavirus today but also beyond in the post-coronavirus future.
Kawakita: Have you been reviewing your business continuity plan (BCP) in the face of this pandemic? Are there any changes you have made to meet the challenge?
Kasai: We had plans to deal with pandemics of infectious diseases already, but the spread of COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to establish a detailed action workflow, which can serve as a manual, and I think this is a progress. Also, we must consider the possibility of natural disasters coinciding with an outbreak of an infectious disease. As we face the typhoon season, we are very concerned about the risk of flooding in the facilities located near rivers. It would not be easy to evacuate people to safety and support their needs while maintaining physical distancing. We see this as a challenge we still need to examine and address.
Kawakita: I asked before if you would be able to develop a version of Sompo Japan’s Disaster Risk Reduction Service
for welfare facilities similar to the policy already offered to local governments. These facilities can get a small amount of compensation for the cost of evacuation if the Disaster Relief Act is applied, but in cases where the Act is not applied, they receive no financial reward for preparedness. If such an insurance policy is difficult to develop, due for example to the frequency of such damage occurring, would it be possible to introduce some sort of mutual aid scheme for care facilities and their supporters, perhaps in collaboration with Sompo Risk Management? For social welfare corporations, converting retained earnings into insurance coverage would also lead to more investment into their BCPs. It would be wonderful if the Sompo Group could use its expertise in providing a coverage for the preparedness of care providers.
Kasai: We are a joint-stock company rather than a social welfare corporation so the organizational framework is different, but the idea of using the retained earnings of social welfare corporations for insurance is very interesting.
Kawakita: The 2017 amendment of the Social Welfare Act sought to make retained earnings of social welfare corporations visible and encourage reinvestment for the benefit of the local community. Many social welfare corporations choose measures for community development such as mobility services and shopping assistance, but taking an insurance cover would be a good way to invest into the local community that also strengthens BCPs.