Over the past few months, I led a team of colleagues who provided COVID-19 testing in underserved communities. This was particularly important for our community and in alignment with the UF Health Jacksonville’s Urban Health Alliance mission of eliminating health disparities. Our immediate concern was ensuring equitable access to testing resources, despite limited transportation for members of the community. In the earlier days of COVID-19, and despite the unknowns, the team was “all in” and willing to make sacrifices to serve, relying heavily on their expertise and teamwork skills.
The gamut of these leaders’ skills was on full display, and three in particular proved especially important during this time:
- Agility. Responding to the pandemic required us to have the ability to take the lead and think and act quickly. As a retired U.S. Navy veteran, agility was instilled in me long ago. That said, it’s always important to ensure that your team is not overwhelmed, that you understand their capabilities and know the limitations of your resources. Moving quickly is one thing but overwhelming your team and resources can create a layer of problems down the road. A good leader discerns what is needed, when and where—with appropriate haste.
- Humility. Humility has been essential for our engagement with residents of the community. Just like the community, healthcare providers have concerns about transmitting this virus to family members. Being humble, attentive and interacting in a dignified manner with residents were key characteristics that were reinforced daily.
- Team-Building Skills. Our team included a variety of professional disciplines, and most of them hadn’t worked with each other in the past. I quickly identified individual strengths and interests and placed team members in the best groups possible to ensure maximum effectiveness and efficiency.
The First 30 Days: Expanding Testing
In addition to the “soft” leadership skills listed above, there was a great deal of planning and coordination required to expand testing.
Within the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting Florida, colleagues, both internal and external to our organization, met to discuss appropriate placement of testing sites, considering factors such as need, logistical support and operational flow. Those meetings served as the catalyst for our team to quickly design and deploy a testing protocol for local residents.
Although the decision to expand testing to citizens was made almost immediately, the process to open testing in underserved communities required significant collaboration inside and outside of our organization.
First, we had to earn the trust of UF Health Jacksonville staff who were volunteering for this deployment-like model of care. Next, we had to secure the support of City of Jacksonville leaders, the Florida Department of Health, the Jacksonville Housing Authority, local law enforcement and many others. Fortunately, all the organizations were very supportive and helped make the decision-making process easier. The health department provided testing materials (which, in the early days of the pandemic, were extremely difficult to come by), and we worked internally to make sure we had adequate personal protective equipment and appropriate staff to work at the sites.
Our primary testing sites were in Jacksonville Housing Authority communities. We rotated around the community to various housing sites, offering the test to residents who didn’t have a car or other means of transportation to be tested at other sites. In addition to creating a walk-in testing model, we took the testing to those residents’ doors, in many cases, literally.
Looking ahead, my focus through the mission and priorities of UF Health Jacksonville will be to continue to foster efforts that address health disparities and health equity factors that have been compounded by this pandemic.