MNLEND Trainee jumps into coordinating a public health response to COVID with community partners

October 3, 2020

Whitney Terrill typically supports Minnesotans living with disabilities to access home and community based services through her role at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Disability Services Division Fiscal Policy Team.  Whitney is deeply interested in value and outcomes based payment design, and currently works on a legislatively mandated project to explore options for how Minnesota might pay for disability services in the future.

In September, she received a re-assignment request from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to support project management and systems coordination for a new program - the COVID community coordinators - with funding from the federal government.  The program funds organization, service, cultural, disability and faith communities to access education, information, and resources or referrals to services and supports to promote public health during the pandemic.

"It is so powerful and deeply gratifying to apply my LEND training experience to support my temporary COVID-19 re-assignment in a public health emergency response.  I feel so incredibly prepared to ask the right questions or and lead with greater confidence because of my training," Terrill added.   

Although there are many stressful days in responding to setting up a new program in weeks, some of the interagency partnerships with key partners have been extremely gratifying.  One of the most memorable moments of her experience was meeting with all of Minnesota's Centers for Independent Living.  

"It was surreal to be meeting with some of Minnesota's most committed disability leaders about how to overcome the systematic barriers facing people with disabilities during the pandemic.  It was equally powerful to actually be part of a team at MDH charged with distributing funding for community organizations and with developing systems to remove specific barriers," Terrill said.        

As a second-year long-term trainee at MNLEND, Whitney intends to use her experience to advance self advocacy and social inclusion for people with disabilities in the United States and in African countries, and to deepen her understanding of disability policy and studies.  Her research and training experiences focus on transition age youth with Autism and interventions to support their success, and in understanding the extent Minnesota and other communities are truly integrated at every level, such as by monitoring deinstitutionalization.