The empty waiting room at Bangor Public Health and Community Services, where WIC recipients typically have their appointments. Credit: Micky Bedell

Effective today, given the coronavirus pandemic, Bangor’s public health department is asking clients to call rather than come into the office to access social services such as the emergency aid General Assistance, the WIC nutrition program for mothers and babies, and housing assistance.

People in need of General Assistance, which is for basic necessities such as food, utilities and housing, are typically required to come in person to the office on Texas Avenue each month to determine their eligibility. Now, the process will be done over the phone, said Patty Hamilton, Bangor’s director of public health.

“You have to be available to people. We’re trying to be available but differently, that’s all,” Hamilton said.

People who already have a scheduled General Assistance appointment should be prepared to answer their phone at that time, so a caseworker can conduct an interview and send a voucher in the mail, according to a notice on the department’s website, which will be updated if things change, Hamilton said.

Those who have a General Assistance emergency and do not have a scheduled appointment should call to arrange a phone interview, rather than come into the office.

Hamilton acknowledged that the changes may be difficult for those who don’t have consistent access to a phone. At the same time, “We’re taking it week by week,” she said.

People who need help paying for their housing through the Shelter Plus Care program — which is for those who are homeless and have a mental health, substance use or HIV/AIDS diagnosis — should also call ahead or be by the phone at the time of their already scheduled appointment. Normally, they need to check in personally with a caseworker, Hamilton said.

Similarly, participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, usually meet face-to-face with a nutritionist for free nutrition education or to weigh their baby, in addition to receiving assistance to pay for healthy food. The in-person meetings are canceled for the time being.

The city’s Immunization and Infectious Disease Walk-in Clinic is also closed to walk-ins. It is still taking scheduled appointments, however, for immunizations, such as if traveling military members need shots for yellow fever or typhoid.

The department is still figuring out how to alter its public health nursing program through which registered nurses visit new mothers and babies at their homes for free to help with breastfeeding, check health vitals and provide overall support. The department is examining how to reduce contact with families who have less urgent needs, Hamilton said.

“Is there another way to meet their need?” Hamilton said. “It’s going to be very individual to people, I think.”

Phone numbers for the city’s programs:

General Assistance, 207-992-4530

Shelter Plus Care, 207-992-4533

WIC, 207-992-4571

Immunizations, 207-992-4548

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is editor of Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative by the Bangor Daily News.