COVID-19 and Lessons Learned: Turning Challenge into Opportunity

Gianfranco Pezzino, Director

A Message from the Director of the Center for Sharing Public Health Services

As we approach a year of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s good to take stock of what we’ve learned. Though an uphill battle remains, we have seen public health leaders face enormous challenges, form new partnerships and discover opportunities to use cross-jurisdictional sharing (CJS) to build a stronger public health foundation for the future. Below we highlight some key insights about how CJS can improve public health capacity during the pandemic and beyond.

Informal is the New Normal

When responding to an urgent need — where decisions must be made quickly and circumstances change rapidly — collaboration and resource sharing may happen informally, out of necessity. Questions are posed in video conference calls, links are shared, staff time is shifted and then the next challenge comes. During times like these, it may be necessary to streamline partnership development. As public health leaders try to stay afloat, informal decision-making and agreements may become the new normal.

Partnering to Fight a Common Enemy

There is an old proverb about a common enemy making unlikely friends. The COVID-19 pandemic has made itself quite the enemy and the public health community has formed new relationships to fight it together.

  • In Massachusetts, where one of our grantees is working to establish a shared epidemiologist position, several cities came together for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic, the first regional vaccination collaboration for these partners.
  • In Western New York, another grantee has opened new lines of communication with the local Seneca Nation to share information and resources for COVID-19 vaccination and testing.

Capitalizing on Opportunities

Public health leaders show resilience and innovation when they form as-needed partnerships on the fly to respond to crises. While it can be difficult to carve out time to formalize these new partnerships — especially when working in crisis mode — doing so can establish a foundation for future resource sharing. Otherwise, when the crisis ends or leadership changes, informal partnerships also can end. As shown on the Center’s Spectrum of Cross-Jurisdictional Sharing Arrangements, there are several types of CJS collaborations. Many new arrangements start out on the left end of the spectrum, in the as-needed category. Shifting a CJS arrangement right on the spectrum can produce a more formal and longer-lasting partnership.

Building Trust Brick by Brick

Formalizing CJS arrangements requires trust from both sides of the partnership. In many cases, the pandemic may have brought health departments and other community partners together for the first time, and these new partnerships can lay the first bricks in the foundation of trust. Our Collaborative Trust Scale can help partners assess the level of trust that exists between their organizations and identify areas where high and low levels of trust may exist. Knowing which areas to emphasize and which areas to improve can help partners to build the foundation of trust that is necessary for a successful, long-lasting CJS arrangement.

Finding Your Way

Exploring a new CJS arrangement can feel like traveling to a new city for the first time — there are landmarks you know you want to see, but you may not know the best way to get there. Our Roadmap to Develop Cross-Jurisdictional Sharing Initiatives can serve as your local guide to navigating new partnerships. Like the best guides, the Roadmap helps you clarify what you want to see and do, suggests activities to help you get there, and walks you through the vital steps on your way to an effective CJS arrangement.

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges, it also has uncovered opportunities for collaboration and innovation through cross-jurisdictional sharing. Cultivating these new partnerships and investing time to formalize them can help partnerships last into the future.

We’d love to hear your stories of how cross-jurisdictional sharing has helped your health department respond to the pandemic. If you have stories to share or need technical assistance on a cross-jurisdictional sharing initiative, please contact us at phsharing@khi.org.

— Gianfranco Pezzino, Director