April 22, 2024
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Transitioning out of the pandemic

Public administration alumni help communities deal with, and move past, COVID-19

The Binghamton University rapid COVID-19 testing site at the Mandela Room and Old Union Hall. The Binghamton University rapid COVID-19 testing site at the Mandela Room and Old Union Hall.
The Binghamton University rapid COVID-19 testing site at the Mandela Room and Old Union Hall. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

While he never expected to deal with a global pandemic, Dave Hubeny ’91, MPA ’10, was prepared for one.

“We’ve had communicable disease and pandemic plans in place for years,” Hubeny says. “It’s one thing to simulate it, but it’s another to live it.”

As Binghamton University’s executive director of emergency management, Hubeny’s office is one of several responsible for the University’s pandemic response. He says they began tracking COVID-19 in early 2020.

“By late February, as it was spreading across the globe, we were certain it was going to impact us,” he says.

While campus was largely shut down last spring, Hubeny’s office oversaw initiatives such as surveillance testing, quarantine and isolation housing to ensure students could safely return to campus for the new school year. Though the pandemic has lasted much longer than he had originally anticipated, Hubeny hasn’t wavered.

“Emergency managers are typically sprinters, not marathon runners,” Hubeny says. “When an emergency happens, we don’t hesitate to work 48 hours in a row to make sure it’s dealt with. We’ve had to adjust to this long-term event, but we are here until it’s resolved. It’s part of who we are.”

With the light at the end of the tunnel now visible, Hubeny is one of many CCPA alumni working to transition their communities out of the pandemic.

Data-driven decisions

Within the broader Binghamton community, Chelsea Reome-Nedlik ’13, MPA ’16, has been playing an important role. As a public health educator with the Broome County Health Department, Reome-Nedlik works as a data management leader to provide public-facing, county-level COVID-19 data.

“The past year has been a year of growth,” Reome-Nedlik says. “Professionally, I’ve taken on roles and tasks that have given me new skills. Personally, I’ve learned to live and be grateful for a different pace of life.”

With vaccines available, Reome-Nedlik has also taken on the role of an educator at vaccination clinics.

“People have a lot of questions about the vaccine and what to expect,” she says. “I’m there to share the science and the facts.”

Reome-Nedlik says she is encouraged by how many people are eager to get the vaccine. After working so closely with data this past year, she hopes effective data analysis will be part of the “new normal” in the post-COVID-19 world.

“I think this pandemic has changed how health-related data is collected, maintained, shared and disseminated,” she says. “Investments in public health IT infrastructure will be crucial moving forward, and we’ll need to cultivate this expertise in the workforce.”

Shifting operations

The American Red Cross is heavily relied upon during emergencies. So when COVID-19 began spreading across the state, Colleen McCabe, MPA ’11, chief operating officer for the Red Cross Western New York Region, was presented with the challenge of managing operations in a world that had gone virtual.

“We pride ourselves in not shutting down during an emergency,” McCabe says. “We had to find ways to maintain operations while accounting for the safety of our employees and volunteers.”

One immediate obstacle was ensuring that blood donations could still happen as reliable locations for drives were shut down.

“We work with a lot of companies and schools that host blood drives for us, and their workforces and students are a major pool of donors,” she says.

Focusing instead on fixed donor sites, community organizations and churches, McCabe says the Red Cross has been able to ensure a steady supply of blood donations. Shifting much of the workforce to virtual was another major challenge.

“This has pushed a lot of organizations to embrace aspects of virtual work, and I think the long-term effects are going to be beneficial,” she says.

McCabe believes the pandemic has created more awareness around the importance of disaster preparedness.

“Being prepared is only going to save lives, and it’ll make an individual much more apt to respond in the moment if they have the resources at their fingertips,” she says.

Despite the challenges, McCabe is thankful for the opportunity to spend more time with her two children while working from home. She says the pandemic has been a reminder of why she got into this field in the first place.

“Just being able to know that you’re genuinely making a difference in your community, in your country, in the world — it’s something to be incredibly proud of,” she says.

Coordination

Long having an interest in emergency services, Robert Cohen ’12, MPA ’14, volunteered with Harpur’s Ferry student volunteer ambulance service, and helped during the 2011 flood in Binghamton.

“It was a major turning point,” Cohen says. “It made me fully realize the value of a coordinator, and the importance of having someone whose primary mission is aligning different groups and efforts into one really broad emergency response.”

Now a director at the emergency operations center with New York City’s Emergency Management Department, Cohen has made a career out of behind-the-scenes coordination. With the threat of COVID-19 looming in early 2020, Cohen led a staffing cell to onboard emergency managers to help coordinate the city’s response. He also worked to ensure coordination centers could run virtually.

“While COVID-19 was and is the primary focus, we still have to deal with other emergencies like heat waves and ice storms and power outages,” he says. “For everyone’s safety, we had to move from an environment where we had a lot of people working together in one room to an environment where we were all working together from different physical locations.”

Working closely with IT staff, Cohen says the establishment of a virtual emergency operations center was a proud moment for him.

“When we have to turn on this virtual emergency operations center, it runs,” he says. “I think people are now more prepared to work from a place where they don’t usually work from. Being adaptive is part of what you sign up for in this line of work, and I’m proud of how adaptive we’ve been.”

Cohen says the COVID-19 pandemic is by far the largest incident he’s dealt with in his career.

“You train for big waves, and every now and then you think you’re dealing with a big wave,” he says. “But then you get hit with an enormous wave like COVID-19, and you realize that this is actually the big wave you’ve been training for all along.”

Posted in: CCPA