Dispatches from the Frontlines:
 MNLEND Fellows Use Their Training in COVID-19 Response

Whitney Terrill.

ICI’s MNLEND Fellows shared stories of how their work is being impacted by the pandemic:

My team at the Minnesota Department of Human Services has become acutely aware of the need to prioritize, responding to urgent needs of people with disabilities and related stakeholders (like family, support staff, providers, and others) during this crisis above other once-priority projects. Our focus is on developing emergency policy solutions that make accessing disability services and maintaining disability services a priority for our state. As an agency, we have also been taking inventory of employees who have needed skills in preparation to be deployed to continue to meet the most pertinent public needs during the time. We have team conversations daily or every other day to be as responsive as possible to the current situation and to continue to also build our team’s morale and efficacy. This crisis is really testing our commitment and calling as public servants, and so many of us are rising to the occasion.

Whitney Terrill (pictured)

MNLEND Community Fellow

Fiscal Policy Analyst, Disability Services Division, Minnesota Department of Human Services

My clinical environment has changed significantly as the COVID-19 crisis has evolved. We have transitioned our clinic visits from in-person to video visits in a relatively short time, which has helped us to maintain contact with our patients outside of the clinic. However, this transition has only applied to established patients, meaning that patients and families who have been waiting for more than a year to be evaluated for a diagnosis like autism spectrum disorder have been required to reschedule their visits, further lengthening the time until they can be evaluated. We are hoping to extend our video visits to new patients in the near future.

My patients who have autism and neurodevelopmental disabilities have had both challenges and successes. Some struggle with changes in schedule, as well as lack of interaction with special education teachers and therapists at school. Others, however, have thrived under a less demanding environment and are more happy than usual. Parents of children with autism are managing as well as they can, although they continue to make adjustments so they can more effectively support their children.

Adam D. Langenfeld, MD/PhD

Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics Fellow

University of Minnesota

We are facing layers of complications. We are short-staffed, therefore the few professionals scheduled are overworked. This can result in other problems such as a lack of containment of the virus due to a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Healthcare professionals are aware of the nationwide shortage of PPE and we are doing what we can to overcome this. Some of us have started sewing masks, but cotton fabric masks do not provide the required level of protection. In fact, these masks can create false protection against a deadly virus. Many of the patients we serve with disabilities are facing higher, multifaceted hardships due to many facilities and programs currently being shut down. We need more PPE or volunteers to sew masks for group homes, nursing homes, clinics, etc. We must keep our communities of people with disabilities safe by providing more PPE.

Muna A. Khalif

Community social worker/BH Case Manager