Call to Action: Local leaders must work and communicate together to during this Coronavirus pandemic

March 15, 2020

It came to my attention from various sources, the public does not have a complete view of what planning is being done collectively by our elected and healthcare officials to protect our community during this coronavirus pandemic.  

As a previous USAF Medical Commander, Nurse, ECU Professor; I would like to share my advice based on 25 years of disaster work and experiences from international, national, and local health disasters. There are tenets of crisis leadership that maybe helpful for our local elected leaders to be reminded of at this time which include: 1) Continuously understanding the crisis, 2) Lead decisively, and 3) Actively Communicate.

Continuously understanding and embracing the scale of the Covid-19 will take leadership and communication skills as this is more contagious and harder to predict than the seasonal flu. In order to limit the damage during a pandemic, public trust and information is critical. Our elected officials have a moral duty to provide timely, clear, and actionable information to the public.

Leading through a pandemic takes the integration between public health, hospital and public elected leaders (Commissioners, City Council, hospital, public health officials, etc.,) and other partners (SJAFB, faith-based leaders, etc.,) to plan together and communicate to the public the collective coronavirus emergency plan for the county. Typically, this takes place in a joint operational center, and then shared on the internet, live podcast, radio, or written print or all-of-the above. As of this writing, it is unclear if a county operational center has stood up.

 

Communication topics could include the following: Is there a plan besides the UNC- Wayne Health Emergency Department as the port of entry for those who are sick and need a Covid-19 test? Is there going to be drive-by test screening? What does a sick person do if they don’t have insurance or a private provider? What should one do, if the private provider is overwhelmed with requests? Will there be additional triage areas (inflatable tents, etc.,) for Covid-19 sick patients? How can volunteers or retired healthcare workers assist? 

Leading decisively during a complex crisis demands leadership skills and teamwork, and we count on our leaders to keep us safe by working together to Protect us during this Coronavirus pandemic. I feel confident our healthcare leaders are operationalizing their plans now. However, I have not seen evidence that our local elected officials are engaged in joint planning with our health care leaders. For example, do our elected officials have a plan to provide students their meals when they are not in school, or how do we prevent a break-out within our homeless population? How does law enforcement manage a geographic area that has high numbers of infected people? These are just a few topics the public needs to hear about from our elected officials. 

I look forward to the first daily public interagency briefing from our county leadership (healthcare and elected) officials. Our community has shown our strength in the past, and  I know we will all do our part …so wave, not hug, call instead of visit, continue social distancing, and support our healthcare workers, emergency services, and elected officials as they all do their important jobs taking care of us.

 

Dr. Donna Lake, Professor at ECU College of Nursing, Colonel USAF Retired, and Candidate for NC Senate District 7

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