Matthew Molina

LifeROOTS developmental-disability support agency had to lay off a few dozen employees during the pandemic, but remaining staff members are offering as many services as they can.

The nonprofit has locations in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.

“We’re just trying to get by,” said new President and CEO Matthew Molina, who replaced Kathleen Cates in November.

With virus numbers decreasing, Molina said he and his staff hope to be able to offer congregate in-person services in their facilities again soon. He said they’ll bring participants back slowly, and follow health guidelines.

“In-person is about the only way you can provide some of the services we provide,” he said.

Molina grew up in Cuba, N.M., and joined the LifeROOTS staff in April 2013 as a contracting division project manager, after 18 years in Lockheed Martin Corp.’s business development group.

“My benefits of working here are seeing every one of our participants in our program succeed in their daily lives,” Molina said.

LifeROOTS has three divisions:

• Children’s services, providing therapies to kids up to age 3;

• Adult services, which offers daytime activities in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque; and

• Contracts, which provides job opportunities in landscaping and custodial work for people with disabilities via contracts.

Before the pandemic, Molina said, LifeROOTS had 170-180 employees, both participants with disabilities in the contract division and support employees. When COVID-19 hit, the state Developmental Disabilities Supports Division forbade in-person services.

Molina said LifeROOTS used the Paycheck Protection Program to keep employees on for a while. As time went on and fewer resources were available, the nonprofit lost about 75 employees.

About 50 were support employees, most of them laid off due to lack of income for the nonprofit, he said, with others choosing to leave and their positions remaining unfilled. The rest were contract services participants who decided to quarantine during the pandemic.

LifeROOTS Director of Community Services Angela Ortega said some contracting teams had DDSD funding, and the state insisted they stop work at the beginning of the pandemic because some participants are medically fragile. In mid-summer, those participants were allowed to return to work if they wanted.

“That’s meaningful to the people we serve,” Ortega said. “It’s meaningful to us.”

Custodial and grounds keeping services were deemed essential, so LifeROOTS continued contract work, “which was a big boost for our agency to continue to operate the way we do,” Molina said.

He said LifeROOTS crews perform eight to 12 facility sanitizations a month, a service they didn’t offer before the pandemic. Also, he said, some pre-pandemic customers asked for more frequent cleaning.

Molina said it’s been challenging to get enough personal protective equipment, such as disposable gloves for cleaning crews. Either no gloves are available or the price has spiked from $49 to $200 a case.

Adult day services have moved online. Managers support 20-25 people for about an hour a day with video-conference programs such as nutrition education and chair yoga, and opportunities to interact with friends.

“It’s kind of hard to keep everybody engaged for more than an hour, but it seems to be working when we break it down,” Ortega said.

Molina said he’s looking at getting support from the next round of the Paycheck Protection Program to prepare to reopen the nonprofit’s buildings. Many LifeROOTS services require providers to have specific certifications and training, which take at least 30 days to get.

“So that’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “… But we look forward to the day when we can reopen again.”