Frontline Warriors

May 13, 2020
Jepson School alumni are leading the fight against the coronavirus

Jepson School of Leadership Studies alumni are waging war against COVID-19. From all across the country, they are leveraging their leadership skills, scientific knowledge, and medical expertise to fight a virus that is wreaking global devastation.

When Seattle became the first epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, Victoria Lyon, ’13, was ready to respond, thanks to her experience developing flu test kits.

The program manager of the Primary Care Innovation Lab in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington had been immersed in the Seattle Flu Study during the previous two years. This interdisciplinary research study led to the creation of a comprehensive system to track the spread of flu throughout Seattle in real time.

“My team piloted a system by which individuals ordered flu test kits online, had the kits shipped to their front doors, and then completed at-home diagnostic tests with the help of a mobile app we created,” Lyon said. “Through our pilot, we learned a lot about the logistics of implementing a rapid home-test system and were prepared to shift our efforts to coronavirus detection and response.”

Her team quickly pivoted to partner with Public Health - Seattle & King County to launch the Greater Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network (SCAN).

“We have focused our efforts on making sure we create a program that effectively reaches people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, including non-English speakers,” Lyon said. “My Jepson classes' emphasis on equity resonates deeply with me.”

On the East Coast, Lindsay Hudson Flanagan, ’14, took a month-long leave from her job as a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to work with adult COVID-19 patients in a New Jersey ICU. 

"In end-of-life care in oncology, we focus a lot on what constitutes a good death," Flanagan said in a podcast. "But COVID is really changing the way I see death. There's no time to grieve, no time to know the people who slipped through your fingers, whose hair you washed, whose bodies you bathed. It's simultaneously the most intimate and most autonomous relationship I've ever had. 

"This is the question I ask myself every single shift: How do I as a nurse, or how do we as a health care community, give patients a good death during a global pandemic?"

Dr. Patrick Oliver, ’98, witnesses daily the toll the pandemic is taking on people’s mental and physical health. The founder of the Mind Peace Clinics, a Virginia-based private practice that treats patients affected by depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and chronic pain syndromes, he said his clinics have seen an increase in patients.

“This pandemic has added more stress to our patients’ lives, whether it be from social isolation, fear of getting the COVID-19 virus, or the bombardment of bad news from multiple media sources,” Oliver said.

A trained emergency room physician, he’s also worked in hospital emergency rooms with patients displaying respiratory symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

“The anxiety level in the emergency departments has been much higher than normal, and likely appropriately so,” Oliver said. “The leadership I brought to bear was to remain calm. We are set up for emergencies, and I specialize in bringing calm to chaos regularly in emergency situations.”

John Sobieski, ’14, a third-year medical student at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, N.J., has seen his education shift away from clinical exposure requirements to online learning in an effort to protect student health, he said.

“There is a certain sense of guilt associated with watching our future colleagues and other health professionals care for COVID-19 patients while we look on from the sidelines,” Sobieski said. “Medical students have tried to help during this pandemic, from creating face shields and acquiring PPE donations for hospital staff, to organizing a program to help facilitate remote communication between folks caring for coronavirus patients and their families. We’ve even partnered with the Rowan College of Engineering to develop a reusable face mask.

“One major leadership lesson that has been brought to bear during this pandemic is the importance of clear, uniform communication during a crisis situation.”

Photo above: Victoria Lyon, '13, program manager of the Primary Care Innovation Lab in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington