Q: How has everyone at the CIRC adjusted to the recent changes caused by the shelter-in-place ordinance? Do you see this having any long-term effects on the CIRC?
POWELL: CIRC and all of UAB have transitioned to a “Limited Business Model”. Most of our CIRC clinical providers and research faculty/staff are working from home with only essential and urgent visits being conducted on campus. Clinical visits are transitioning as much as possible to telephone or video-conferencing visits. Our Psychologists and others are working with national organizations to better understand what, if any, diagnostic testing can be done remotely, and some of this is occurring remotely already.
Research faculty, staff, and trainees are analyzing data, writing papers for publication, writing grant applications, and coming up with novel ideas for future work. At UAB, grant submissions are up by 8% and grant funding is up by 13% over this period last year. So we are all taking advantage of this time to plan and secure funding for our ongoing and future work.
Long-term, I see CIRC being more resilient than ever. As we discover new ways to see patients remotely, we are hopeful that this will increase our ability to reach patients and their families in remote and outlying areas. As we plan for our return to research activities on campus, I am sure there will be a transition period before we will be up to full speed ahead. We will weather this “storm” together and come out stronger for it.
Q: What are some ways researchers have adjusted to be able to continue their work? For example, for those with animal models, have they been able to make changes in their schedules to continue monitoring their progress?
POWELL: We have multiple contingency plans for all of our research, particularly animal research. We are allowed to complete ongoing animal experiments that would result in significant and devastating data losses if they were not completed. Of course these experiments are carefully planned and hours are adjusted to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all of our research staff. Strict social distancing, the use of face masks, and frequent disinfection protocols are in place for these essential activities.
Q: Dr. O’Kelley shared how the Civitan-Sparks Clinics have adjusted so they are able to continue serving their clients. Can you share any other similar stories?
A: Across UAB Medicine and CIRC, we are moving to telemedicine en masse. Fortunately, UAB has existing telemedicine capabilities that require only a computer with a camera or a smartphone to use. Many of our providers are able to see a full schedule of patients from home using telemedicine or simply “seeing” patients by phone. The governmental agencies have temporarily loosened privacy restrictions to even allow us to see patients using less secure electronic means such as FaceTime and Zoom.
Q: Aside from donating to support the CIRC, are there any other ways members can support the CIRC during this time?*
POWELL: The most important way our Civitan supporters can help is to maintain strict social distancing, to wear cloth or similar face masks in public, and to stay at home as much as possible. CIRC depends on Civitan supporters that remain healthy both physically and mentally so that we can both continue our intertwined missions once this global pandemic is over. Communicate electronically with your friends and family, especially those challenged with neurodevelopmental disorders.
Q: Fundraisers like Dance-a-thon are shifting to virtual events. What would you tell those Civitans who are still fundraising in the midst of this crisis for the CIRC?
POWELL: These are challenging times for fundraising, yet good Samaritans abound in our country and around the world. Those that are able to remain in the workforce are actually saving money because they are being unable to eat out and unable to shop and spend money. I think everyone doing virtual fundraising should continue to have faith in the human drive to continue to do good in the world. I am confident that those who are still able to give will do so more generously than ever. As one example, one Civitan member recently emailed to let me know that they are going to donate a portion of their federal stimulus check to Civitan International Research Center.
Q: Finally, what are some ways we can support families with loved ones with I/DD during this crisis?
POWELL: Reach out to these families in every possible manner. Ask them what they need. Get them groceries or prepared food. Communicate with them regularly. Make sure they have internet, smartphones, and computer equipment for their now virtual appointments with providers and school systems. Remind them that during these difficult times, just making it through every day is a major accomplishment. These folks need to feel supported, not just financially, but mentally and spiritually throughout this crisis.
I have every confidence that we as a global society will come out of this global pandemic more resilient, more capable, and stronger than ever. Keep the faith and thank you for your service.
*Since our interview with Dr. Powell, the Civitan-Sparks Clinics has reached out with a special request. Visit www.civitan.org/facemask to learn more.