I have been working in Public Health, Healthcare and Policy for the last 15 years. I have seen outbreaks – and threats of outbreaks – come and go. I have seen it bring out the best and worst in people. No matter the severity, an outbreak almost always illuminates how fragile our Public Health and Emergency Response infrastructure really is.
But this newest threat – Coronavirus – is a whole different ball game… albeit a ball game played in an empty arena. I have never seen mitigation become such a central part of the social contract.
We stay home, we work remotely if we can, we cancel events we have planned for months, NOT because we are afraid of getting sick, but because we have a moral responsibility to play our part.
Maybe some introverts out there are loving the alone time, but I’m a hard “E” on the Myers-Briggs and it’s a struggle to look at all my canceled plans and feel OK. Many of us at mySidewalk have spent this newfound alone time reflecting on what we can do to help create a more informed, healthy world. Let’s be real – the majority of our partners are government agencies, and when they stop and pivot, we have to stop and pivot.
We have to keep searching for ways to be useful without coming across as opportunistic – because authenticity and empathy are the core values of our company.
After some self-reflection, here are a few things that are on my heart these days.
Because so many of my friends and family still think I’m an MD or a lawyer, I often field their questions about either “does this look infected?” or whether they can be sued for something. Recently, though, all the questions have been “should I be worried?” or “should I cancel my conference?”. And… honestly… my answer is “I don’t know what to believe anymore”.
That answer hurts to say. I pride myself on being a researcher and a shrewd consumer. I’ve worked in politics and journalism so it’s not my first rodeo. Something about this time and place feels different and surreal. My margin of error is wide, and the usual stats I lean on to discern resonate differently.
Public Health Departments and Healthcare organizations are in a unique place in this crazy time to be a voice of reason and get out in front of the misinformation. Some of my dear colleagues took the time to spin up an awesome resource library to share how cities are keeping residents informed on COVID-19, you can find it here. Included there is a report template that might help. It’s yours if you want it.
Anyone who understands the role of social and economic forces in health outcomes would be remiss to not bring up policy issues that intersect with this outbreak.
If you are being asked about Coronavirus, you have a platform.
Social isolation or distancing may very well mitigate this disease, but we know social isolation is easier for some than others. We know school closures affect short term (think, hunger for kids and job insecurity for caregivers) and long term (academic) outcomes. We know that some folks come into outbreak-land with a deck stacked against them.
I heard on the radio this morning that people should try and buy 3 weeks of groceries at once – clearly a story written by someone who has never counted down to the weekly or daily dollar to feed kids every paycheck like I once did.
Do not look at this opportunity to draw attention to larger social issues as distracting or inappropriate. Think of it as an imperative part of the essential service of Public Health and Healthcare leaders.
When we have moved past this outbreak, the hard work we normally do will still be there. Do not entirely kick the can down the road if you can help it. Your Community Health Needs Assessments or Health Improvement plans are more important than ever. As the dust settles, you will want to be poised for success.
Do not let this outbreak discourage and distract you.
Instead, think about how you can mitigate the effects of the next outbreak on the people who need the most protection. Does your CHIP address things like paid sick leave, health care access and emergency preparedness? To take it one step further, are you infusing equity into your planning and policy? Are you looking at outcomes by race, SES and other demographics?
Reflect on how you can take the work you have to do and transform it into the work you have passion for.
This isn’t a sales pitch. I’m sure your email inbox, like mine, is full of people taking Coronavirus and turning it into some sort of predatory marketing (I literally received an email from a local realtor saying this was a buyer’s market that had a picture of a bottle of Corona beer).
Rather, this is my way of processing not only how I feel about what is happening in the lives of our customers, but also what it means for us at mySidewalk. We have been successful as a company because of you, our Government friends – so we owe you all something now.
Feel free to reach out to me any time if you want to know more about how we can help. I’ll be (probably) working remote with my very bored teenagers eating all of the pasta I stocked up on at Costco.
Dr. Sarah Martin is Vice President of Strategic Communications for mySidewalk and is responsible for developing new ways to help clients change the world. Sarah came to mySidewalk from the field of Public Health, most recently as Deputy Director for the KCMO Health Dept. Her work lives at the intersection of public policy and health outcomes, focusing on combining Public Health and Healthcare into a force to be reckoned with. Sarah received a Ph.D. and MPP in Public Policy and Economics from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. She also received an MPH in Epidemiology from Cal where she specialized in methods for Social Epidemiology and Epigenetics.
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