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Social, Health and Care Directors Conference 2020: Nordic countries share their expertise and experiences

Published 26.8.2020 9.25

The Nordic countries’ social, health and care directors held a joint conference on the topic of the covid-19 situation. Due to the pandemic, the annual meeting was arranged as a virtual conference, hosted by the city of Tampere on 20-21 Aug. Sharing the experience made and learning from each other was a key issue at the meeting for the cities as they are developing plans and strategies for preventing the spread of coronavirus.

The participants joined the meeting from leading cities of the five Nordic countries Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and the host country Finland.

Kuva tietokoneen näytöltä.
Due to covid-19, this year’s meeting was a virtual conference that was arranged from Tampere. Photo: City of Tampere

The opening remarks were made by Johanna Loukaskorpi, Deputy Mayor of Tampere. She said that the conference proves that all Nordic countries are now working on similar problems. Loukaskorpi found it significant that information is exchanged and knowledge about local solutions in different cities is shared to benefit all on how to prevent social problems that are on the rise. She emphasised the importance of guaranteeing safety in service and care homes of the elderly, as well personnel wellbeing.

Flexible management and consistency plans help curb the spread of covid-19 in the Nordics

Anniina Tirronen, Development Director of social and health services in Tampere, was the arranging the conference. She gave a presentation on the situation and measures taken by Tampere to limit the spread of the covid-19 virus.

– The social, health and care directors of the Nordics meet annually to discuss current issues. This year, as we are having a virtual conference and we concentrate on one particular topic, we can deal with it in depth. This will be fruitful for all of us when preparing our future strategies for tackling the pandemic.

Anniina Tirronen kuulokkeet päässä.
Development director Anniina Tirronen reported on the measures in the city of Tampere. Photo: City of Tampere

In addition to Tampere, current reviews on the first meeting day were presented by the participants from Bergen, Reykjavik and Copenhagen.

The second conference day was opened by Taru Kuosmanen, Executive Director of social and health services in Tampere. Current reviews were given from the cities of Helsinki, Malmö, Oslo and Stockholm.

Inhabitants at great risk are a top priority

Tommy Johansen, Director General of the Department for Work, Social Services and Housing in the city of Bergen, pointed out the importance of helping the inhabitants who are at great risk. As an example of the measures taken he brought up that temporary housing has been arranged also drug users who got infected with the coronavirus. Warm meals are served to the homeless people in Bergen. One of the five social welfare offices of the city is open on every day of the week.

Mies nostaa ruokakorin pakettiautoon Bergenissä.
Meal delivery in Bergen, Norway. Photo: City of Bergen

The city of Oslo reacted swiftly after the outbreak of the virus by making changes in the organisation of services. Social and health services were combined with employment affairs and integration – a reform that is planned to be valid even after the pandemic crisis. This year, the city of Oslo offered an exceptionally large number of jobs allowing young people to work in their first summer job.

Knut Egil Asprusten, Director of the combined services in the city of Oslo, noted that the epidemic actually has revealed a number of serious problems that require more rigorous attention in future: crowded housing, poverty, drug problems and loneliness. Communication about covid-19 with immigrant families who do not necessarily follow the Norwegian media is a challenge. The city of Oslo is tackling the situation by making contact with key persons in the immigrant communities. Another challenge is to provide services for the people from Eastern Europe who have come to Oslo to work but who now have lost their jobs and are homeless. This problem concerns the paperless and the Roma as well.

Deputy Director-General Anders Jakobsen from the social services administration in the city of Copenhagen looked into the changes and practices that were introduced due to the covid-19 situation as a learning process in the organisation. The experience gained from the pandemic can spur a learning process leading to novel long-term work models and practices. He mentioned the example of intensified outreach activities among drug users during the crisis. According to Jakobsen, flexibility in the city administration procedures has increased, and special attention has been paid to the clarity of instructions and the need for contingency plans. Wearing a mask will be required on public transports, among other places, within the next days.

Fast reactions are a key advantage

In Iceland where 60 per cent of the population live in the capital region, precautionary measures to fight corona were introduced as early as in the end of January. Regina Asvaldsdottir, Director of the Department of Welfare in the city of Reykjavik, emphasised the importance of rapid communication within the organisation and cooperation with the media. Working together with the national Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management was also initiated at an early phase. In the course of the pandemic, there were weeks when the number of confirmed cases in Iceland was non-existent. This aroused international interest in the situation. After the quiet period, new cases have been reported.

Malmö is the fasted growing large city in Sweden with its 340,000 inhabitants. This is one third of the population in Stockholm, the capital, soon reaching one million. The death toll is 468 in Stockholm, in Malmö 22. The profile of Malmö is young and very international: half of the people are under 35, and as they say, “Malmö speaks all languages in the world". Gisela Öst, Administrative Director of health services and elderly care, tells that a couple of scenarios with different perspectives were produced during the pandemic: one from the viewpoint of the clients, patients and inhabitants, and another focusing on work, the environment and business activities.

Compared to Stockholm, the death toll due to the pandemic, is very low. Öst explained the calm situation in Malmö with the fact that they took a quick start in the end of February. She told that elderly people who were infected with covid-19 and taken into hospital were after the hospital period placed in special cohort care, i.e. they were not taken back to their original care homes.

Crisis management and transparency

Maarit Rautio, Service district director of the city of Helsinki, depicted the flexibility of the city personnel in adopting new tasks, methods and the ability to learn new skills. All city inhabitants over the age of 80 years, who are at higher risk from the virus and a special target group for protection, were contacted in person on the phone. At the end of March a joint helpline for the cooperation between the city, Helsinki parishes and third sector organisations was opened to coordinate the access to services and assistance. Rautio pointed out the lack of personal protective equipment during the pandemic as a major problem.

Coronavirus figures in Stockholm are in a class of their own. Lena Lundström Stoltz, Director of Social Administration of the city of Stockholm, pointed out that activated crisis management has lead to shortened decision paths in the organisation. The Swedish authorities have been criticised for a slow start and deficits in communication. Members of the city personnel are afraid of getting infected and many suffer from anxiety. The city has instructed them to follow the general recommendations, and encourages remote working. However, client work and providing services in person is crucial in social services. Stockholm has developed a local model for meeting personally: Walk and Talk. There is a great need for multilingual communication – the city of Stockholm has published covid-19 instructions in 37 languages. Perseverance and contingency plans are vital assets in preventing the spread of the pandemia.

Mies puhuu puistossa kahdelle kaupunkilaiselle.
A local model in Stockholm for social work during the pandemic: Walk and Talk. Photo: City of Stockholm

Text Outi Aaltonen

Photos Laura Vanzo, City of Tampere, City of Bergen and City of Stockholm