What Ani Baghdassarian’s Disaster Service Worker Assignment at a City Hotel Site Was Like

Ani Baghdassarian has long mastered the art of project management. Throughout her career, Baghdassarian has helped her teams secure the resources they need for projects.

Recently, Baghdassarian served as a Disaster Service Worker (DSW) at one of the City’s hotel sites. In some ways, her temporary DSW role was similar to her normal job, an office operations manager with the SFPUC’s Project Management Bureau.

“As a Site Monitor, I’ve had to make sure that everyone, including other staff and the guests were being provided with all the resources necessary to self-shelter safely and with dignity.,” she said. “It really wasn’t so different from what I was used to doing at the SFPUC, but I had to adjust a little as my service was to a vulnerable population instead of the group of project managers and engineers that I normally work with and support.”

Ani Baghdassarin, an operations manager with the SFPUC’s project management bureau, was exhausted after her 12 hour shift.

Baghdassarian was placed at one of the San Francisco’s hotel sites for two weeks and part of a team of frontline workers and volunteers, which included nurses, social workers, security guards, Department of Public Health and Human Services Agency staff. The hotel sites were being utilized to house individuals experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable residents, some of whom had tested positive for COVID-19. Serving as a Site Monitor, her role focused on making sure hotel guests and other staff working at the site were comfortable and safe and had access to all necessary resources, to provide meals, and to ensure that social-distancing, isolation, and quarantining protocols were being followed. Together, the team was charged to ensure residents who were considered very vulnerable were safely sheltered, and people who had been infected and shared homes with family members or roommates were able to isolate until they were no longer contagious.

“If not for the resources being provided by the City and the work being done by public sector employees it is likely that many of the people who are being sheltered would have become infected,” she shared. “And that those who had already been infected and are currently being quarantined may have infected their housemates as well because they would have had no alternative living situation.”

When Baghdassarian’s DSW assignment concluded, she had to adjust back to telecommuting, which was a bit of a challenge after an intense two weeks. Baghdassarian has worked in an office setting since she was 15 years old, with exception of one summer during her college years when she and her husband traveled to Armenia to help rebuild a village that was destroyed following a devastating earthquake in 1988.

Baghdassarian’s work space was the break lounge of the hotel.

“For the first time in my life I had to get used to the distractions around me at home while working. At home, my husband, daughter, and two dogs are all sharing the same space all day,” she said. “But on the other hand, what has been a welcome change is not having to rush our daughter to get her ready for school drop off.” Baghdassarian shared that before shelter-in-place, leaving the house was always chaotic. Her daughter got ready for school while Baghdassarian and her husband got ready for work, and everyone had to get out on time. “Not having to constantly be in a rush has been a breath of fresh air and it seems much needed in a society where we often seem to be running with no end in sight. So that’s been the silver lining for us.” Baghdassarian shared that although it is unfortunate that her daughter will not have an eighth grade graduation ceremony this year, she has been a trooper adjusting to all the changes and is looking forward to attending Crystal Springs Uplands High School in the fall.

Baghdassarian shared about how the pandemic has impacted her family members. Her older brother, who is a newspaper editor, recently moved from California to Armenia for work and became very ill several weeks ago. Even though he tested negative, his pneumonia and other symptoms were consistent with COVID-19, so the doctors believed that his tests were false negatives. Baghdassarian’s brother was at Armenia’s infectious disease hospital intensive care unit for several days, and then was transferred to another hospital. The rest of his family, including his wife and sons, all live in California. Their family felt helpless as there was nothing his family in the states could do due to shelter-in-place and travel restrictions. Luckily, her brother had friends who reached out and helped him during this time.

Baghdassarian’s elderly mother, who moved into a convalescent home in February, had little time to adjust to the new normal. She has not been able to have visitors or see family members since the shelter-in-place order went into effect. “The timing was horrible in that sense because before my mother even had time to adjust to her new environment, it feels as if we abandoned her,” Baghdassarian shared. “My fear is that if these pandemic prolongs, my mother would have to be alone at a time when she needs me the most and I will never forgive myself for that.”

Baghdassarian believes that things may never be the same again, and certainly not until there is a vaccine or herd immunity which will minimize the infectiousness of the virus. “Public service is essential and being a prepared public servant is vital. We are still learning from this experience as the pandemic is not ending anytime soon and as a result, we are still vulnerable. I’m afraid that many things which we have taken for granted for so long will be altered, and our daughter will not feel as safe in the world as my husband and I did growing up, even though we both experienced living in a war torn country when we were kids,” she said. “But our scientists and our technology experts are our hope. Our State and City leaders are our hope. I know they will find a way to fight this pandemic in time and we must be patient and remain hopeful.”

Baghdassarian’s work space was the break lounge of the hotel.