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The Path Forward for Government

Perspective on COVID-19 response, recovery, and being prepared for the future by Roderick Bremby, former Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, current Industry Executive for Health and Human Services at Salesforce.

by Salesforce / May 5, 2020
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“Do you think we can use the Governor’s plane?”

In July of 2009, it was becoming clear that an unprecedented mass H1N1 immunization effort would be required when a vaccine became available. Immunization of 80% of 450,000 school aged children became our primary objective in addition to all critical community personnel, pregnant women, elderly individuals and those with chronic health conditions.

Three months prior to that assessment, Kansans found themselves on the front lines of a novel flu virus. The first American cases away from the border were found in Kansas. A man returning from a business trip in Mexico returned home ill and infected his wife. Specimens collected by their family physician were analyzed that evening in the state public health laboratory. Lab tests suggested the novel flu virus, and within hours lab personnel flew the specimens aboard the Governor’s airplane to the CDC labs in Atlanta for confirmation.

Within days, other cases were discovered around the country, leading to school closures. Face mask supplies sold out rapidly. And yet, this experience pales in comparison to what we face today, the greatest public health crisis in over 100 years.

At this moment, on behalf of my colleagues, I want to thank each of you for your service. It can be especially arduous striving to keep yourself and your family safe, while working to assure access, and the delivery of services and support your customers desperately need. I want to reassure you that we are here to help you. Despite the daunting days ahead, we will get through this together, stronger.

Partnering with Public Sector on Response and Recovery Efforts

I want to take this opportunity to share with you a perspective of how I believe service delivery in the public sector will evolve through this Global Pandemic challenge. My perspective is informed by having had the privilege of serving as a Cabinet member for four governors over the last sixteen years. Most recently, I served as the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Social Services, and prior to that as Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). Just over a decade ago, KDHE led the Kansas public health response to the H1N1 Pandemic.

Public sector organizations will transition through four distinct and overlapping phases while experiencing this Pandemic. Those four phases are Reaction, Response, Recovery, and Renaissance.

Reaction - With an escalation of public, private, event, and institutional closures and cancellations during the week of March 9th, federal, state and local governments began to react to abrupt changes in how we live and work.

While exercising an abundance of caution, many community closure decisions were made without evidence of widespread community transmission of the virus. COVID-19 became one of the most talked about topics across social media platforms. Support and mitigation of an emergency response requires timely and tailored communication with the public. There are three critical components to factor when developing an emergency response:

  • Monitor social media in real-time to stay current with community conversation and miscommunication.
  • Have access to rich data and information to enable a measured reaction to events and decisions.
  • Create a community portal to share the most current information about this novel virus and to echo the best advice about how to prevent its spread.

Response - As a new operational reality began to set in, public sector organizations responded by organizing alternative service delivery pathways. Adoption of digital service delivery processes increased because of the reduced availability of on site employees.

Despite a reduction in on site workforce, service demands have increased and in many instances exceeded record volumes. Leveraging cloud technology and AI capabilities are critical to meet the surge in demand for services:

  • Chatbots and intelligent agents are solutions that significantly deflect increased calls and help to extend the capacity of an existing workforce, while permitting customers the ability to self service remotely via mobile devices.
  • Deploying new solutions rapidly to support the new service pathways from COVID-19.Public health officials need more robust means of testing and tracking the contacts of persons testing positive for the virus.

Recovery - Recovery and restart considerations are beginning to emerge in public sector policy discussions. The pace of implementing social distancing to help prevent the spread of the novel virus, far exceeded our collective consideration of what a recovery or a restart might require.

Due in large measure to some 26M workers filing unemployment insurance claims over the last five weeks, constructive tension is building, balancing the need to keep communities safe and restarting local economies. There are key considerations in the planning for the recovery:

  • Enhanced COVID-19 diagnostic testing, contact tracing, serological tests, and mass vaccinations.
  • Public policy and ethical guidance will be needed to address the authentication of COVID-19 immune persons and support for residents remaining at risk of infection prior to the availability of a vaccine.
  • Scaling diagnostic and contact tracing to enable an understanding of where the virus is and how it is moving within the population is critical to keeping communities safe.
  • Serological tests to detect the presence of antibodies of previously infected individuals (many unaware of having been exposed to the virus) and believed to have some immunity to the virus is key to restarting local and regional economies.

Renaissance - The Renaissance was a transitional movement characterized in part by intellectual, social and political transformations. The global pandemic has taught us that we are all connected. While it is too soon to know how a post COVID-19 public sector will evolve to better serve our communities and increase their resilience. It is likely to be informed by a digital transformation.

Several key trends are emerging that give us some clues of how a public sector renaissance might be initiated:

  • The public sector is already being challenged to be more transparent and responsive to customers who are more digitally connected than ever before.
  • Human and social services are being sought increasingly through multiple channels and by mobile platforms.
  • Our human and social service systems are being scaled beyond typical capacity to accommodate surges of new users. COVID-19 exposed the non existent or deficient current public facing service systems to engage and serve a digitally connected public.

A new age of public service can emerge as a positive outcome of COVID-19. Salesforce stands ready to assist our public sector partners reimagine a new public sector infrastructure to better serve your customers.

“It is too soon to know what will emerge from this emergency, but not too soon to start looking for chances to help decide it. It is, I believe, what many of us are preparing to do.” - Rebecca Solnit, ‘The impossible has already happened’: What the coronavirus can teach us about hope.

I am grateful to you for your continued service during this public health crisis. It is in part through your service that many of us are reminded of just how connected we are. As we transition through the phases of Reaction, Response, Recovery and Renaissance, there may be circumstances when we may re-experience a phase.

In time, though we will get through this challenge. I am hopeful that on the other side, we apply the lessons learned by our experiences to begin the process of co-creating a public service delivery model. We would be honored to join you in that work as a trusted advisor. Co-creating a public service delivery model that is worthy of the sacrifice suffered by many of our public servants and their families, is something that we can do for our Country.

To learn more, you can hear from me directly on this webinar, or visit our website for additional information.

Author: Roderick Bremby, Industry Executive for Health and Human Services

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