Coronavirus post March 2020

COVID-19: A Case Manager’s Perspective

For many of us, shortly after our students arrived back on campus excited for the start of a new term,
we began to hear rumblings about a virus that originated in Wuhan, China. February came, and news of
other countries fighting virus outbreaks entered our collective consciousness. At that point, the virus got
a name — COVID-19. The reality of a worldwide pandemic loomed large, and in the college and
university space, the alarms were sounded to pull out our pandemic plans and begin to prepare for the
possibility of outbreaks on our campuses.

During my 20 years in both health care and higher education, I have participated in a significant number
of emergency planning exercises — campus shootings, threat assessments, and yes, even a pandemic. I
am showing my age here, but I can recall preparing for the Avian Flu, SARS, Swine Flu, etc. Like most of
us, I did not want to believe that this could happen, but preparedness is always essential, and in many
ways, this is why we are called to this work. Professional case managers, many of them in housing, join
these professions because they want to be the ones who step up when care is needed, and to help
repair their communities on the other side. Indeed, in recent days, we are being called to do this and

Just weeks ago, campuses began to swiftly move course delivery to distance learning, extend spring
breaks, and delay re-openings or close residence halls completely. In a matter of days, we were making
decisions about whether students would be able to remain on our campuses. While each campus
confronts different realities, what I know to be true is that campus administrators did not take this sort
of decision lightly. In fact, these were some of the hardest decisions they have ever had to make.
For many students, our campuses and residence halls have become their home, their family, and their
source of support. They are places where they can make mistakes, learn who they are, establish life-long
relationships, and connect with professionals who truly care for them. Balancing the health and safety of
our students in such circumstances is challenging, and especially when it means separating students –
even just physically – from this deep and established support system.

As the decision was made to transition students out of campus housing, student affairs professionals did
what they do best. We acted thoughtfully, compassionately, and quickly, demonstrating great care for
students who were overwhelmed, scared, and in some cases, frustrated.

One of the positive byproducts of all of this is the strengthening of partnerships across campuses.
Certainly, hard decisions were made, but they were made together, cross-functionally, and with the best
interest of students in mind. During this time, case managers and housing professionals were called to
ask — what can be done to minimize the impact of this event on students? How can we support them
holistically? What are we missing? Over the last several weeks, we have worked long days and nights,
and in many cases, the longest we have experienced in our careers. We do this to ensure that our
students’ needs are being met; to makes sure they have safe places to live, access to food, access to
technology, and on my campus where we have many non-traditional students, to ensure that they know
how to apply for unemployment benefits.

Even before the COVID-19 headlines, we were assisting students with mental health issues and through
moments of crisis, so this isn’t new for us. But, for many of these students, this global pandemic has
exacerbated their normal levels of anxiety and fear. As a result, those of us who engage in case management work have had to become even more creative and more willing to embrace technology,
which is a lifeline for our student populations who are scattered across the country and, in some cases,
the globe. We do this because, now more than ever, we must assure them of our continuing care and
our desire to support their health and emotional wellbeing.

It goes without saying that we are living and working in a difficult time, but I am proud of how we have
supported students and our colleagues. I believe that case managers, both in and outside of housing, are
crucial to the work that is being done to keep students safe, healthy, and connected. While we all
navigate this (hopefully) temporary new normal, I hope that you recognize how important your work is,
that you are taking care of yourselves and each other, and that you recognize how critical it is to
maintain that link between campus and the concept of home.


Laurel Donley

HECMA President

March 2020

Laurel N. Donley serves as a case manager at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and
President of the Higher Education Case Management Association (HECMA).

Join us April 1, 2020 at 3pm ET for a virtual roundtable discussion, entitled: “Look for the helpers: Case
management during the COVID-19 crisis.” This program is offered, in partnership, by ACUHO-I and
HECMA. Register here.