Inside NHPHA: A Monthly Column Written by NHPHA Leadership: Public Health Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

written by Lisa Bujno, NHPHA President

Challenging times, trying times, uncertain times, unprecedented times… these words have been heard daily since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year. What do these words mean for us as public health professionals? How can we work to protect the public’s health in this new environment?

These are questions we are all striving to answer. As a practicing primary care nurse practitioner, I’ve seen many health professionals working diligently to understand the healthcare system changes needed. Many have quickly shifted to offer telephone, virtual and even tent visits. They have pivoted to provide alternate options for patients who were reluctant to come to the office for preventive care, immunizations and chronic disease follow ups. Specialty care and non-emergent procedures were deferred to preserve hospital capacity for pandemic response. Now, as restrictions lighten, the healthcare system needs to once again shift as we re-engage patients and deal with pandemic-related care delays. Through it all we have developed resiliency and strength.

Resiliency enhances strength and collaboration

Over the last few months, I’ve seen public health colleagues working long hours to battle this pandemic. Many, like New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services’ employees, have been directly involved in response efforts. Others have played a supportive role. We have long been concerned about public health issues now highlighted by this crisis: equity issues, domestic violence, and food insecurity to name a few. Some work is underway to address inequities and it is heartening to see old and new partners working together. One thing is for sure – community partnerships across public health, healthcare and community systems will be crucial.

As we continue to grapple with the phases of pandemic response and figure out how our daily lives will evolve in the coming months, I’m sure we’ll see public health work continue to change. This presents exciting opportunities to enhance and improve our work, to think creatively, to try something new. For these uncertain times, leadership is crucial. For me, it all comes back to leadership.

Strong leaders will emerge

We have seen myriad examples of how leadership has impacted this crisis, from the inspiring to the alarming. Luckily, public health has always had a strong foundation in leadership, both in New Hampshire and across the nation. We must continue to foster that strength in ourselves and help aspiring public health professionals learn and grow as leaders. By continuing to forge strong partnerships, working across sectors to address complex public health issues, we can emerge successful as we face the new “normal.”

The work of the NHPHA supports these imperatives, and we must continue to support the NHPHA. Warren Bennis, author of On Becoming A Leader, said it this way: “Leaders manage the dream, embrace error, encourage reflective back talk, foster dissent, see the long view and create strategic alliances and partnerships.” This is the challenge before us. I look forward to seeing the public health system rise to this challenge.

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