In a world where nothing could move fast enough to address the growing consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, NNPHI used its collaborative infrastructure as a buffer against the escalating chaos. By March 17, staff gathered NNPHI’s 45 members and 10 public health training center partners into a Community of Practice (CoP), both online and via regular video conferences. The CoP is a place where solutions could germinate across state lines, where agencies could move from overwhelm to action. “A global pandemic creates an even stronger case for a coordinated approach that saves lives, rather than states going it alone,” said Erin Marziale, NNPHI’s Director of Network Engagement.
The group quickly realized equity or lack thereof served as an underpinning to the growing consequences related to COVID-19, so they focused on fact-based story telling, which shows the most severely affected populations (e.g. communities of color, rural, homeless, etc.) and what can be done to address their needs. “Our members are casting a spotlight on the historical trauma and racism and the strategies can be used to help mitigate the disproportionate impact,” said Marziale.
Participants spent the first several weeks discussing best practices related to messaging and policies to slow the virus’ spread; community health workers’ potential role; a need to gather reliable data from within vulnerable communities; and, funding strategies, among others.
As the Hurricane Response Hub, NNPHI understood, perhaps more than most, the critical capacity building and networking solutions needed to mitigate a crisis, including a concerted effort to implement and scale emerging solutions. The CoP provided a quick win for NNPHI and its members. Armed with real-time information that provided insight into the challenges related to the national response, the agency used a previous funding mechanism to secure rapid response funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to quickly mobilize COVID-19 prevention and control solutions.
As the pandemic’s ramifications became clearer, the staff and members realized they needed to focus their resources on problem solving and implementation. To address the rapidly evolving science, NNPHI used its active organizational relationships to switch to adopt a taskforce approach, which has 11 working groups filled with 40 volunteers from 39 states. This action-oriented structure has produced swift, tangible results. These include:
- COVID-19 Equity Strategy Summary – an action-oriented document resulting from a comprehensive scan of member equity-related responses to mitigate inequitable outcomes among higher risk communities
- Multi-state scan of policy supporting telehealth expansion as a first step towards developing an issue brief.
- COVID-19 Literature Scan – updated weekly packaged into an easily digestible information source for elected officials.
The pandemic highlights existing inequities, Vincent Lafronza, NNPHI’s President and Chief Executive Officer said. “We have to change the way public health functions, something well suited for our organization and its members, because we’re a national group with local ties.”