Brown School Alumni Share Work, Fears During COVID-19 Pandemic

Alumni; Community Engagement; Public Health; Social Work

Brown School alumni are working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and also working to meet the new social needs that our current crisis is producing. We’re so proud of the important work that they’re doing to help their communities during the pandemic, and are honored to share their stories in their own words. If you’re a Brown School alum we’d love to hear from you and share your story

Gwen Callaway, MPH ’15: “I work for the San Joaquin County, Calif. Health Department and have been reassigned from my position as a health educator in a children’s health program to that of public information officers & risk communication branch director. We try to walk the line between communicating the very real risk COVID-19 poses without inciting panic. I’m proud to be doing my part in combating misinformation and helping our department communicate to our partners and the public.”

Corinne Char, MSW ’17, works in an emergency department in St. Louis,  providing care to patients with psychiatric concerns: “Sometimes it has been really overwhelming and frightening in a way I haven’t seen before. I was exposed to an asymptomatic patient a week ago, hours before they spiked a fever and tested positive. Everyone is stressed in the ED now and outpatient referral options are dwindling. I am very lucky to feel supported by many of my coworkers and the hospital in general. PPE is in short supply, so when I’m at the grocery store and see someone in an N95 mask (usually wearing it wrong) I want to cry. Hospitals can’t get enough, and now we’re asked to reuse surgical masks for three shifts.”

Kristi Collins, MSW ’97: I am currently working at SSM Hospice in Lake St. Louis, Mo. This wasn’t the career path I would’ve ever imagined taking when I graduated with my MSW.  However, when I went on my first patient visit I fell in love.  I finally found what I was meant to do. This is a job that doesn’t stop because of COVID-19.  I am still making visits and supporting the patients and families.  They still deserve quality of life even during a pandemic.  We are the only support for some families and I will make sure they still get the best care. We have home patients as well as patients in skilled nursing facilities.  Many facilities are limiting who can come inside.  This is heartbreaking and causing complicated bereavement issues.

Natalie Curry Ray, MSW ’06: “I was appointed BSW coordinator in the School of Social Work at Missouri State University in June 2019. I have been working with our faculty and administrative team in recent weeks to move all of our seated BSW courses to distance learning through online and web-conferencing modalities to support our students who are sheltering safely at home during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Hannah Dismer, MSW/MPH 18, serves as education and research coordinator at Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Ill.: “Abortion providers have always worked with less resources and more opposition than other healthcare providers, and we are keenly aware of the reality that the services we provide are highly contested and under immense scrutiny from opposition. We have been working tirelessly to keep our doors open and implement new COVID-specific safety precautions for patients and staff.”

Ben Glosenger, MPH ’14: “Working as a health educator at the Grant County Health District  in Moses Lake, Wash., I have been activated as part of our emergency response team on the operations side, conducting case investigations, contacting close contacts to inform of isolation/quarantine, and recording information for input into our state disease reporting system.”

Laura Kessel, MSW ’09: “I have the honor of serving as the director of Telehealth Services at SIU Medicine. SIU Medicine’s service region is the 66 southernmost counties in Illinois (covering Central and Southern Illinois). The SIU Medicine Office of Telehealth Services has been working fast and furiously over the past two weeks to get the majority of our healthcare service lines online providing telehealth services to patients at home during this COVID-19 public health emergency.”

Samantha Rockler, MSW ’15, is a hospital social worker with Johns Hopkins in Washington, D.C.: “I primarily work with oncology patients who are extremely vulnerable during this crisis. I believe that social workers will play a key role in this crisis supporting staff, patients, and families in extremely difficult circumstances.”

Dessa Shuckerow, MSW/MPW ’13, who lives in the St. Louis area, recently started group called MapleGOOD with neighbors, and was astounded by the response: “Two days later we were a story on Channel 4 news and had an article in St Louis Magazine as an example of neighbors helping neighbors.  We’ve reached out to hundreds of households in Maplewood and Richmond Heights, Mo., offering grocery and medicine delivery, for those who can and cannot afford them. We now have new projects starting every day: Arming Warriors supports health care workers, Social Distance Support is a mental health initiative, Hygiene Heroes provides free sanitary and hygiene items, and MapleGOOD Masks is making masks for health care workers and community members. Over 600 people are involved in the initiative both providing and receiving support.”

Emily Stuart, MSW ’10: “I am the director of Family Development and Program Evaluation at LifeWise STL in St . Louis, and work with three other alumni colleagues:  Felecia Noguera (bilingual youth therapist), Sarah Caldera Wimmer (manager of Mental Health Integration), and Samantha Ferguson Knight (director of Senior Programming).  We remain open during the pandemic: welcoming the children of guardians with essential jobs;  working remotely to contact our student scholars (ages 5-22) and drop off essentials like food and computers;  staying in constant contact with senior adult clients and dropping off bags of food and household supplies; providing curbside pickup of food/household supplies ; and conducting virtual group and individual therapy with all clients.”

Muniru Sumbeida, MSW/MPH ’12: “I am deployed to the Emergency Operations Center located at the Washinton, D.C. Department of Health as part of the response to COVID-19. I work a 4-day on and 4-day off 12-hour shift schedule, supporting the development of various planning products, including the weekly Coordination and Support Plan that captures key activities of the day and the weekly objectives and activities for the COVID-19 response, and then shares that information with the Mayor’s cabinet, department directors, and emergency management leaders. I feel honored to be part of this team of committed and passionate public servants. It’s challenging, but the Brown School certainly prepared me for this role.”

Megan Vitale, MSW ’98: “I am an associate vice president for youth behavioral health at COMTREA (pronounced COM-TREE), a community mental health agency in Jefferson County, Mo.  Our community support specialists who go into the community to work with youth who have severe emotional disturbances.  Whether it is in the home, school, juvenile office and court hearings, or children’s division, we find ourselves trying to work with young people in all aspects of their lives.  I also oversee our emergency room enhancement program — created by mental health providers in the St. Louis area and tied together by behavioral health network — to link youth in hospitals for mental health needs to outpatient services in their area.”

Kimberly Rand Zimmerman, MSW ’96, offers personal guidance on financial capability and asset building with Dragonfly Financial Solution in Boston, Mass. “I have shifted the focus of my professional blog to assist nonprofit practitioners in adjusting the lens through which they view personal finance in the time of the coronavirus.  I’ve also developed a virtual class called “Money Matters in Tough Times” geared toward financially vulnerable consumers that is offered in conjunction with nonprofit sponsors.

Sumbeida Muniru, MSW/ MPH ’12: “I work 4-day on, 4-day off, 12-hour shifts supporting the development of various planning products, including the weekly Coordination and Support Plan that captures key activities of the objectives and activities for the COVID-19 response. These are distributed to the Mayor’s cabinet, department directors, and emergency management leaders for situational awareness and action.  As challenging as the task is ahead of us with regards to the COVID-19 response, I feel honored to be part of the team of committed and passionate public servants dedicated to protecting the residents of the nation’s capital. The Brown School certainly prepared me for this role.”

Caroline Dias, MSW/MPW ’13, who has been living in Maputo, Mozambique for the last six years, and recently joined the team at the USAID that is implementing a monitoring and evaluation project in the country: “Our team is working with the Ministry of Health on the COVID-19 resource allocation and planning meeting.  We are supporting the US mission in the COVID response.  I am also responsible for 2 studies related to COVID to support the US mission here and the Mozambique Ministry of Health. First, I’m working on a study on how COVID isolation measures are impacting vulnerable populations, to inform USAID and their partners’ response.  I am also presenting a concept note to support a study on knowledge, attitudes and practices about COVID prevention to USAID. Additionally, I am involved in 2 COVID technical working groups at the Ministry of Health.”

Abigail Chihak, MSW/MPH ’18, lives in West Des Moines: “I’ve been lucky enough to join the Dallas County [Iowa] Health Department team since graduation. We are now working to make sure COVID case investigations are completed and correct information is disseminated to the public.”

Alynn McManus, MSW ’84, is part of a group of practitioners who is providing pro-bono, evidence-based EMDR therapy in the Greater St. Louis region in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: “Serving our community in the St. Louis area since early 2014, our mission is to develop and maintain a network of licensed clinicians who provide early EMDR interventions as part of the frontline trauma response and recovery in the Greater St. Louis Area. Since 1995, at the time of a terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City, Trauma Recovery, EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs has brought mental health clinicians with evidence-based therapy to the scene of disasters, providing pro bono care to thousands. The Trauma Recovery Network grew out of this tradition and now helps hundreds of skilled therapist/volunteers to serve communities affected by disasters worldwide.”

This article will be updated as more alumni share their stories.