Dual master's alumna helps people with disabilities through pandemic

By Steve Seepersaud

Nicole Blagg, MSW '17, MPA '17, has worked in human services for most of her life.

"It's a big passion of mine," Blagg says. "I couldn't see myself doing something other than helping people."

Nicole Blagg, MSW '17, MPA '17There has never been a more important time than now for her work. She's a care manager supervisor in the Ithaca office of LifePlan CCO NY, an organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities connect to health and wellness services.

In her role, Blagg leads a team of seven care managers, each with a caseload of about 35 people. Care managers work with clients to develop life plans that identify and obtain services to help them live independent and successful lives. Because of the pandemic, Blagg and her staff have been working longer hours to have more frequent contact ― weekly as opposed to monthly ― with the people they're serving.

"The situation is causing a lot of stress and anxiety for our members," Blagg says. "It's a total change of their way of life. It's hard for everyone but particularly for someone with developmental disabilities. They may not understand why they can't do what they've been doing."

For example, day programs for the intellectually and developmentally disabled ― which can provide social support through shared activities such as volunteerism or outings to a park ― are on hold until further notice. This is where an extra personal touch can make a difference as the care management staff is there to listen and suggest recreational activities clients can engage in while social distancing. Most importantly, Blagg's staff help identify when someone needs food, prescriptions or supplies, then helps acquire the items.

"The people we support definitely appreciate that someone is calling every week," Blagg says. "It shows that we all do care, that we're here and we're all in this together."

While much of the state is on pause, the need to help new members isn't. Blagg is continually submitting paperwork to get people started with services.

"It will take a while to get back to some type of normal," Blagg says. "I'm proud of my team and co-workers for how hard everyone is working. I can see it's making an impact."

Blagg graduated from the dual master's program in social work and public administration in the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA). She said her CCPA experience enabled her to handle challenges during calmer times as well as in a period of tremendous public health and social disruption.

"The program gave me a totally different perspective, and I'm able to see things on a broader scale," Blagg says. "It gave me an added sensitivity in crisis time. I'm able to work with different agencies and different stakeholders to ensure the needs of our members are met."