WellNav Connects Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to Support Services
In the quarantine, business owners received relief from the Paycheck Protection Program. Expanded unemployment benefits helped laid off workers make ends meet. Offices, schools, stores and restaurants changed their day-to-day operations. It was painful, no doubt, but most sectors of society received a lifeline to help them weather the crisis.
Many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities didn’t. The consequences were tragic.
“A lot of the in-home services were no longer available. Out-of-home services were no longer available,” WellNav CEO Annalee Hummer said. “People were being institutionalized just because they had nowhere else to go to be able to get care.”
It only underscored the need for WellNav, a venture launched over the summer as part of the College of Business Impact MBA program’s Social Entrepreneurship track. It hopes to help caretakers of people with IDD find information, guidance and support.
In the best of times, navigating support services for individuals with IDD can be trying for families and caretakers. In an unprecedented crisis, it became nearly impossible. That may not be as difficult in the future if the venture finds its footing. Fellow Biz Rams David Persson and Danielle Riese join Hummer in developing the venture, which plans to collect and coordinate information and services provided by local agencies who serve people with IDD. Ultimately it will reduce the burden of coordinating care by helping navigate a tangle of public and private agencies.
“A lot of people say that just being able to learn how to work the system is like going back to school and getting another degree,” Hummer said. “It’s not just hard because of the day-to-day stuff. It’s hard because you have to learn so much about just taking care of loved ones and getting them the resources they need.”
To help caretakers locate and use support services, the WellNav team is developing an app and website that aggregates information and points caretakers to resources. At its heart is the company’s journey map, a plan that looks to integrate services, regulatory requirements and other milestones into a comprehensive view. That plan would provide caretakers with a concise picture of the services available to people based on their age, specific disability and area.
That’s more challenging that it may sound on the surface. In addition to juggling demands of multiple bureaucracies and coordinating help from private and public support services, caregivers must stay up to date on evolving regulations and requirements to secure care. Traditionally, caretakers and family members have relied on an informal network to share information as well as the aid of caseworkers for guidance, although both can have significant blind spots
“It is just the process of getting connected with support services that has been a pain point,” Hummer said. “We are trying to magnify and create more ease of use for getting to those services that are already there.”
The WellNav team plans to develop partnerships with local support services such as Foothills Gateway and The ARC of Larimer County. It is integrating its network of locally focused Community Centered Boards – regional organizations that provide support – to ensure its information remains up to date as regulations and service offerings evolve.
The project took shape as part of the social entrepreneurship track’s summer practicum, a portion of the program’s curriculum that requires students to develop a venture that addresses a social or environmental problem. The program places an emphasis on applied learning and venture development in a real-world setting. Many of the program’s alumni have continued pursuing their practicum to be a full-time startup. The real-world application of the MBA curriculum has long been a hallmark of the Impact MBA’s experience.
“I feel like you can get a lot more out of something if you’re doing it,” Hummer said. “For me that was huge. I got my undergrad in social work, which is a very hands-on field. So for me, that was important, just to be able to feel like it fit my learning style.”
There’s more benefit than just applicable experience to the practicum. The Impact MBA caters to students with a passion for tackling social and environmental problems, but their work often has immediate impact on those most impacted by the issue the venture addresses. WellNav is one of those: As Hummer and her peers work on bringing the application and website to market, they’re looking forward to seeing the positive effects of their project.
“The families are all very collaborative, very resilient and intelligent people,” Hummer explained. “The organizations are just great. They’re really doing a lot with what they are given, and it’s just really cool to see how much everyone wants this to be a functioning system for the people who need it.”
WellNav is just one of the ventures in the Impact MBA that is finding new ways to use business to build a better world.
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