What the Health Blog- Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Field (By Andrea Carlstrom, Director, Chaffee County Public Health)

Now that the public health system is settling into a routine disease control mentality on how we all learn to live with COVID-19 and future variants of it, I’d like to share a few lessons that I have learned (or confirmed) along the way in managing a multi-year local pandemic response.  Hopefully, we can all remember these points next time we are faced with an emergency or disaster.

  • Come to find out, health and healthcare are political. I have always been proud of the non-partisan, sensitive, and thoughtful way our local public health and healthcare systems have been able to avoid toxicity and opposition in our programming, and the last two years have proven that there is a significant divide in our society that continues to become more complicated and divisive.  I have found that in times of stress or uncertainty, people are not always their best selves.  They want someone to listen to their concerns, even when there are no clear and agreeable solutions.  Local public health has been a scapegoat in what has been one of the most epic chapters in recent history.  Empathy goes a long way in those situations and has allowed me to open my mind and heart to the very people who are threatening or challenging.  It is hard not to take the heat personally, but showing up consistently and with integrity goes a long way.
  • I have always admired the team culture at Chaffee County Public Health and that was one of the reasons why I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join it 6.5 years ago. Fostering a strong team environment is essential in getting through the toughest of times, and it is a sheer joy in the brightest of times.  Recognizing strengths and complementing those with fulfilling and meaningful assignments while also giving each individual space and flexibility to make their own personal decisions can be empowering.  Emotions can run high in acute situations, so it is imperative to create safe and open ways to promote self-care for self-preservation.  Servant leadership principles help cultivate a highly functioning and supportive team.  Team is everything.
  • While public health directors have served the role of incident commander for this most recent declared disaster, it is clear that success can be achieved by taking a coordinated, collaborative, and inclusive approach to decision-making. Establishing open communication pathways with a multitude of county, municipality, and sector leaders involves humility, energy, and critical and strategic thinking, and it has been well worth the return on investment.  Incident command has based its decision and policy making on the varying perspectives, insights, and expertise of what has been called the Leadership Roundtable which has allowed for a balanced response.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know for certain that the way we think about health and healthcare in the future, especially in securing resources and workforce, has to change.  I hope we can reemerge into this next chapter of COVID-19 with some valuable lessons in our back pocket.