A Letter From The CEO Regarding Coronavirus | Northwood Children's Services

A Letter From The CEO Regarding Coronavirus

UPDATE: 4/3/20
Richard Wolleat, President and CEO


I hope this message finds you and your loved ones well.  I believe the measures we have taken in Minnesota have been helpful to date in slowing things down. Though the environment it creates feels a bit dystopian, seems best to stay a strict course until this thing levels off.  We have been really busy with all this stuff, as I am sure you can imagine, and it struck me I should update you on what has been happening around here.  Things change daily, and our Executive Team has been meeting almost every day to evaluate where we are and plan for the short and long-term future.  We are inundated with information from a myriad of sources, and it is a real challenge to sift through the mountains of information to land on the most salient items in order to take the appropriate action.

Of course, we have continued with all the basic preventative measures – hand washing, cleaning, social distancing (although that presents a real challenge with the kids in this environment), etc.  We do not allow visitors.  All contacts with parents, referring workers and others occurs by phone.  Deliveries are left outside.  We have modified our entire meal time routines to maintain ensure sanitation and social distancing.  Those staff who can work from home, do.

Each day, each staff member, upon arrival, has their temperature checked.  If elevated, they are sent home.  Same with the students – they are checked daily as well.  So far, we have not had reason to refer anyone to be tested for Covid-19.  We expect that to change, and are operating on the assumption that it is not a matter of if, but when, we have staff and students who test positive. More on the response to that later.

We continue to operate our two residential programs, the Diagnostic Center, Little Learners, a day treatment program and outpatient services.  We have been really creative in how we deliver services.  Our day treatment therapists in those programs that have closed down are providing individual and family therapy by Zoom, or phone.  The Center for Medicaid Services has relaxed some of the standards that apply to telehealth and we have taken full advantage.  Our outpatient staff have been able to maintain a full case load.  At the urging of the governor, we have kept the Little Learners program open, as it is licensed as a day care center.  Attendance is down, so we will apply for a grant that is available for day care providers that have been impacted by the pandemic.  We have school every morning for the residential students.  Structure and routine is key.  They work on lesson plans and have access to their teachers for assistance when needed.

We have developed a comprehensive risk evaluation tool to assess exposure and relative risk that points to specific action to be taken for both students and staff.  We have developed a plan for isolation for students who test positive.  We continue to attempt to procure supplies we need. Like all organizations, we do not have enough masks, gowns and other PPE we will need if we get hit hard.

The integration of staff from the day treatment programs to our residential facilities has gone very well.  Seasoned staff, they have been a great augmentation to the teams.  They are grateful and thankful to have a job.  We are implementing a program to give people time off, with pay, when we have enough staff scheduled.  We are going to need them over the next several weeks when we start to deal with Covid-19 positive students, so may as well rest them early in anticipation of needing them soon.

The response of the Northwood family of staff to this crisis has been really positive – amazing, really.  If you were to visit, you would not notice anything different than the typical goings on.  As we expected, people have really stepped up with a positive and can-do attitude.  I am proud to work with them.

I’m sure there is something I neglected to mention.  Please, if you have questions, concerns or suggestions, let me know.  I appreciate your service and support.  Keep us in your thoughts, and, if so inclined, your prayers.

Please look for additional information on the Minnesota Department of Health Website:
https://www.health.state.mn.us  or call at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903

and/or the Center for Disease Control:

Richard Wolleat
President & CEO


Greetings!  Hope this finds you well.  I wanted to take an opportunity to provide you with a big picture update on our response to the coronavirus crisis.

The medical staff and Executive Team at Northwood have been keeping a keen eye on all of the developments and recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health regarding our response to the spread of coronavirus.  As everyone is aware, this is a constantly evolving situation. This is our plan at this time. This plan will change frequently as this fluid situation changes, and the Executive Team will meet frequently to stay on top of emerging developments and best practices for mitigation and share the updated plans with everyone.

To date we have been following the recommendations of the CDC and MDH and have issued two updates on prevention guidelines, which include social distancing, staying home when ill, covering your mouth when coughing, frequent hand washing, avoid touching your face, and  frequent disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces. Our plan, obviously, is to continue those practices.

Please look for additional information on the Minnesota Department of Health Website:
https://www.health.state.mn.us  or call at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903

and/or the Center for Disease Control:

In addition, we have developed very specific precautionary action steps to further prevent the introduction and spread of the virus to our facilities related to the core procedures indicated above.  We will continue with enhanced cleaning protocols. We have made significant changes to mealtimes to better facilitate appropriate social distancing and will take even greater precautions with the process of serving meals.  We will not be participating in community events, but encourage outdoor recreation. We have postponed home visits for the time being. We are limiting access to our facilities to essential staff only. Staffings and meetings with parents and other stakeholders will be conducted by phone.   Pre-screening meetings will occur telephonically as well. Attendance at admissions will be limited to critical individuals only, and individuals must attest to be free of any related symptoms to be able to attend. We will have a robust education curriculum for students delivered by our medical staff, with follow up groups by our clinicians to deal with each student’s reactions, fears and concerns.

Our exceptional nursing staff have developed very specific protocols for students who may become infected with the virus. Information will be available, in detail, about those procedures if need be.

Families and students will, naturally, be very concerned about the changes to their normal family contacts and interactions that these procedures will impact.  We encourage frequent phone contact. Additional technology will be provided to the wings and the houses to allow Zoom communication with the students and their families.  We will work with each individual family to determine the best outcome for their student and family- for example, pending discharges may be moved up, families may wish to have their children at home with them during this stressful time- other fears and concerns we have not thought of are sure to arise.   We need to address and work out the best solution in each unique situation.

The kids, so far, have been great.  The additional staff will be key factors in creating and maintaining an effective therapeutic milieu.  We will maintain a highly structured environment, and will even have the kids attend school for half-days to work on their on-line assignments under our staff’s supervision.  We will have a camp-like recreational experience, delivered within the context of the social distancing criteria. Educational and therapy groups will continue.

The Governor’s Executive Orders that have been issued in the last week had several items that directly apply to our agency and staff.  He encouraged all day care centers to remain open. Little Learners is licensed as a day care center and will be open until further developments and clarification takes place.  We will continue to operate our residential and CADI programs. Day treatment services will be closed for the foreseeable future and we will follow the guidelines of the state for timelines on reopening.

Finally, there are a number of considerations related to our greatest resource- our staff.  This pandemic is without parallel in our history, and it is going to require that each of us demonstrate incredible flexibility to get through this crisis and take care of our kids- like we have always done so exceptionally well.  As of this time, we are not planning any mandatory vacations or lay-offs for staff from programs that may be temporarily suspended. We need you- all hands on deck!

We have a task force that is meeting daily either in person or via telephone to implement the ever changing recommendations from MDH, DHS and State/Federal government.   For specific questions regarding any of the items referenced above, please direct them to the Executive Team member responsible for your department.

Anna Carlson – 218-625-2633 –  Main Campus
Larry Pajari – 218-216-8317 – PRTF, Merritt IDT
Mel Winkler – 218-625-2638 – CADI program/Foster Care
Dawn Peterson – 218-216-8359 – NOS, Day Treatment

In times of adversity, the people at Northwood have always shown great resolve, tenacity, and an even greater level of commitment to our purpose.  It has certainly been the case thus far during this incredible time, and I am most confident it will continue.

Thank you, stay well-
Richard Wolleat


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