Carlton County Public Health and Humans Services nurse Becky Rud is still working her normal schedule meeting and talking with pregnant and new mothers in the county — but the way she does it has been remade by the coronavirus outbreak.

Instead of meeting new mothers in their homes to support them through pregnancy and the postpartum period, Rud sits down behind a desk and pulls up one of her clients in a video call.

Using video chats has changed the way Rud does her job, but she said she feels the meetings are helpful to new mothers who are more isolated from doctors and families during a critical time in their lives. Rud can help families connect with community resources like SNAP benefits, lactation support and other financial and medical assistance. The Public Health Department will even deliver a scale and teach clients how to weigh their child to ensure they are gaining the proper amount of weight.

“Because of the challenges they have — not having family members come over or having a very different birthing experience than anticipated — we are able to meet with them still virtually and help them,” Rud said

There is a learning curve for the technology Rud is using — a system called Vidyo that uses a lower bandwidth than many virtual meeting technologies — but she said it is working well and allows public health nurses to continue serving clients.

Rud said she is seeing some increase in mental health problems as more people stay home and are unable to work because of the pandemic.

"When you put that into the mix, too, with financial concerns it really is such a unique time for everyone and how to navigate that,” Rud said. “Here at the county, we are trying to figure out how to show people that we are present and that we are here — teleHealth has really helped that in so many ways.”

Planning ahead

Carlton County has been at the forefront of preparations for an emergency situation where people might not be able to come into the Carlton County Service Center in Cloquet.

Planning started just after the June 2012 flood devastated homes and buildings across the region.

“What we learned from that is we wanted to be able to set up our workforce to be able to work remotely, spread out across the region,” said Dave Lee, Carlton County public health director. “We right now probably have less than half of the staff in the building, but the rest are still working on-site or in the community.”

For the last five years, Carlton County has worked with the state of Minnesota to expand the state’s Vidyo technology, Lee said.

“The State of Minnesota uses it for all of their direct care and treatment throughout the state,” Lee said. “We are able use it in the northeastern part of the state as long as we do person-centered work and that we push innovation ... It is our advantage that we already have so much of this set up to get links out to people and set up groups.”

One of the things that has remained largely unchanged, however, is in-home visits for Child Protective Services. County employees are still going out into homes for child welfare visits since video may not provide a complete picture of what’s happening in a home.

“You hear a lot about health care workers, first responders, but not those workers that need to do home visits for child welfare checks,” Lee said. “We’re taking strong guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health on how we can do it safely, but still provide those mandated services while minimizing risk to our staff. We’re trying to maximize service while we also maximize safety.”

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