Person-centered planning during the pandemic calls for flexibility

Person-centered planning during the pandemic calls for flexibility

For people and organizations serving people with disabilities, COVID-19 and the emergency order have had a major impact on how they provide services. From telemedicine to social distancing, many aspects of how we deliver human services have been reshaped in three short months. 

Yet, for providers, person-centered thinking remains the core principle at the center of our work, and the ideas behind it hold as true today as they did three months ago. 

What is “person centered”? A person-centered support system helps people: 

  • Build or maintain relationships with their families and friends; 
  • Live as independently as possible; 
  • Engage in productive activities, such as employment; 
  • Participate in community life. 

In short, the goal is to ensure we all lead lives that are meaningful to us. For providers, that can mean finding the balance between what’s important to and what’s important for the people you work with. 

What do we mean by that? Here are some hypothetical examples: 

It is important for Stan to wash his hands every hour or so, but at the same time, it’s important to Stan to watch TV without interruptions. One creative solution could be that we wash our hands with Stan every hour during the first commercial break. We will work with Stan to see if this idea would work for him. 

Tanya is irritable and anxious about not being able to go places she usually goes during the day, including the library, a coffee shop and work. Can you sit down with Tanya and check in about the options for the day? Talk about what can be done such as going for car rides, taking a walk, 

going to the local park or helping staff around the house. 

Dwayne wants to visit with his family. We can work with Dwayne and his family to figure out how they can best maintain their social connection while also maintaining the proper physical distance, whether we use a virtual platform, drive by, talk from a distance, or something else. 

We believe people having control over their lives does not preclude protecting health and safety. We need to continue to listen to what people are asking for and find a way to help them get it. We may have more circumstances to think about now, but all the more reason to stop for a minute and come up with creative and innovative solutions. 

We know that it can be a real challenge to find the balance between important for and important to this time of uncertainty. But it remains as important as ever. 


Gertrude Matemba-Mutasa is assistant commissioner, Minnesota Department of Human Services. 

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