Opportunities for Civic Leadership During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

COVID-19 has bought much of the United States and the globe to a halt to help stop the transmission of the deadly virus.  The scope of the pandemic and its impact on hospitals and health care systems and the economy is unprecedented.  Federal, state and local officials have taken extraordinary steps in restricting the movement of millions of Americans, forcing many businesses to temporarily close or reduce operations. The nation has not experienced anything like this in modern history.  Nor have we experienced, as a nation, a period when one-third of the U.S. population is asked to quarantine in their homes, while others are engaging in social isolation to curb the spread of the virus.

Living in Extraordinary Times but a Federal Infrastructure is in Place to Lead

Federal, state and local officials are acting with very few lessons to draw on as they seek to limit the transmission of the COVID-19 in the nation.  Fortunately, many policymakers have long anticipated the threat of a public health pandemic occurring in the nation and have prepared an infrastructure to address it.

Prior to joining FTI Consulting, I served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Legislation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  I was appointed to the position by President Barack Obama.  During my tenure, I served as the principal liaison to Capitol Hill on legislative issues involving public health programs within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Health Resources and Services Administration. I helped craft the coordinated federal response for several public health threats, including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the Zika virus, and the Ebola outbreak. My time at HHS was marked by admiration and appreciation for the dedication and competence of our nations’ top public health experts.

While COVID-19 has taken much of the nation by surprise, we are fortunate that there was already an infrastructure in place to help lead the nation through a crisis such as one we are currently facing.  The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, has long been engaged in evaluating and preventing emerging infectious diseases that pose risks to public health in the nation. In response to Hurricane Katrina, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response was created to help the nation prepare for and respond to critical health care concerns that result from public health care emergencies and natural disasters.

Fertile Ground for Public-Private Sector Collaborations

Government officials have a long and successful history collaborating with the private sector, particularly at the state and local levels, during periods of crisis and uncertainty to help communities recover.  These collaborations are needed now more than ever as the private sector will be instrumental in reviving the U.S. and global economies and helping to get individuals get back on their feet during the recovery period.

As the U.S. continues to take bold action to combat the spread of COVID-19, it is incumbent on business leaders to step forward to assist the federal, state and local response and help those who are impacted by the virus.  That means prioritizing the health and safety of the organization’s workforce, clients and community where the business resides.

Supply Chain Issues Leading to Unique Private Collaborations

Business leaders should also take this opportunity to look for ways to collaborate with other companies to help support hospitals and the health care systems, as well as first responders who are facing a shortage of supplies that are critically needed to assist those infected by the virus and other medically vulnerable populations. The constraints on the medical supply chain have created some strange bedfellows as businesses collaborate with one another to help fulfill unmet needs in communities across the nation.  It also has created opportunities for unique partnerships and civic leadership from the private sector.  Ford, 3M and GE are preparing to repurpose their plants to produce medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the COVID-19 outbreak as the three companies announced they would be working in a partnership to produce products out of Ford plants in Michigan.  General Motors has entered into a partnership with Ventec, a medical equipment maker, to build ventilators at a GM plant in Kokomo, Indiana.

Brewers such as Budweiser maker Anheuser-Busch have started producing sanitizer, and Scotland’s BrewDog has unveiled slickly branded BrewGel, which will be donated to the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary intensive care unit. The American Craft Spirits Association said 3 in 4 of its distillery members are now producing alcohol for use as disinfectant.

Many U.S. banks, including JP Morgan Chase, US Bank, Wells Fargo, Citi and 200 state-chartered banks and credit unions have also offered flexibility and forgiveness on mortgage payments, in addition to postponing foreclosures.  U.S. bank regulators have directed financial institutions to exercise forbearance and work with their customers who face financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.

Federal policymakers have injected trillions of dollars in stimulus into the U.S. economy to help lessen the financial blow to individuals and businesses, while state and local officials will continue to take extreme measures intended to stop the spread of the virus.  They will look to the private sector for help in stemming the transmission of COVID-19 and fully restore the economy during the recovery period, creating unprecedented opportunities for business to step up and lead in a time of crisis.  As someone who has had the honor of working with exceptional leaders in both the public and private sectors, I am confident that the country can overcome this unprecedented challenge through constructive engagement from both sides.

Sonja Nesbit is a Managing Director in the Government Affairs segment of the Strategic Communications segment of FTI Consulting, with a specific focus in the Healthcare and Life Sciences sector.

The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, Inc., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals

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