COVID-19 Resources

100 Days In: Meet the COVID-19 Core Team at UC Health

Jun. 10, 2020

100 days ago, UC Health activated a system-wide command team to lead our collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 3, 2020, President & CEO Richard Lofgren, MD, introduced the COVID-19 Core Team to the organization. The team included experts in emergency management and infection prevention as well as system leadership. 

Since that time, this team has reviewed hundreds of documents, aligned and re-aligned with government agencies, coordinated with local health systems, influenced and supported public health at the local and state level and, above all, has prioritized the health and wellbeing of our patients, staff and clinicians as they introduced and implemented best practices in infection prevention during disrupted operations.

Now, their work continues to shift and evolve as we responsibly return to a “new” normal. 

Members of this team did not necessarily work together regularly before they began sharing a daily workspace. Inspiringly, they quickly developed relationships based on a common commitment to each other, to UC Health and to the health and wellbeing of our colleagues and those we serve.

Read below to learn more about each of these leaders.

What is your role at UC Health? What is your specific role on the COVID-19 Core Team?

Smulian: I serve as the Chief of Infectious Disease for both UC and the VA as well as the Director of Infection Prevention at UC Health. I spend four half days a week working in a clinic at either the VA, West Chester Hospital or the Infectious Disease Clinic. I do approximately 24 weeks of consult service per year at UC Health or the VA in addition to a lot of administrative work and support for the Infectious Disease teams.

Schuster: As an infection preventionist, I identify hospital-acquired infections and then work with teams to examine the root cause and find ways to prevent future infections. Before COVID-19, I mainly worked at West Chester Hospital. On the core team, I serve as a subject matter expert on infection prevention and control.  

Friday: I serve as the director of emergency management for UC Health, which means I make sure we have emergency plans in place so if a disaster happens, we know what to do, whom to call, etc. I educate and train leadership and staff on how to prepare and train for disasters before they happen and help to identify roles and responsibilities using best practices and knowing our organization well. Our preparation for emergencies includes anything from a power outage to a mass casualty incident – anything that disrupts normal operations.

Forrester: I am an infectious disease physician and medical director of the clinic where I see patients three days a week. In this practice I mostly focus on HIV care. I’m also the Associate Chief Medical Officer for Ambulatory, where I work to improve patient access into our clinics as well as process and clinical care.

What is the purpose of a command team in a situation like COVID-19?

Friday: The command center concept is part of the HICS (Hospital Incident Command System). It can be hosted virtually or in a physical location and can be site-specific or system-wide. For UC Health, during COVID-19, we used a regional command structure, coordinated with the site leadership. Convening a small team of subject matter experts allows us to quickly and nimbly respond to changes in our situation. We are able to coordinate with local and state officials and other health systems through the Health Collaborative, then share and communicate with our organization through our daily huddles.

What inspired you to work in healthcare?

Smulian: I could never decide whether I wanted to do public health or internal medicine; infectious disease is the crossover between the two. My father was an obstetrician and my mother a registered nurse. Both of my sisters are medical professionals and my wife is a hospice nurse. You could say healthcare is a family affair.

Schuster: I started as an accountant, actually. After a significant life experience, I felt called to do something more in service of others, so I went to nursing school. While there I worked in the laboratory as a lab assistant and I fell in love with bugs! Shortly after, I moved to Cincinnati and I was hired as an infection preventionist at UC Health in 2016. I became board certified in infection control in 2018.

Wright: I had an interest in science from a young age. I had great admiration for my family physician Dr. Galbraith – I watched him ride his bike into his office every day. He put my arms in casts, treated my parents for whatever his illnesses were – he was a true general practitioner. I always wanted to serve others, so eventually joined the military. I was always in service, doing volunteer work and medicine was a natural extension of this.  

How have your past career experiences prepared you for your current role with the COVID-19 core team?

Friday: Being immersed in a fast-paced community like Boston and experiencing several events - like Superstorm Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombing - helped me learn how hospitals can adapt internally and externally to continue to care for patients. This was a pivotal moment in my career – I really saw how hospital operations are affected and learned about all the many roles required to keep caring for people whether in a hospital, in the street or in a makeshift tent. This experience set the stage for my career in emergency management.

Forrester: I’ve had some great role models like George (Smulian) that have pushed me to leadership roles, using a style of leadership that takes input and cues from the people that do the work. Certainly being an infectious disease physician has been my entire training which has helped me to feel prepared. I’ve been thinking about epidemics long before COVID-19 and luckily they are few and far between. Also, I’ve been here long enough to know many of the ins and outs of the hospitals – from a student, a resident and then faculty perspective and now more administrative. This experience has helped me push decisions forward and really represent a variety of viewpoints.

What has it been like in the command center for 100 days? Describe what it’s like.

Smulian: I have grown laterally – ha! I like the personal drive and the challenge of trying to drive for the whole system and do the right thing for our patients and clinicians. I like trying to ensure that we support everyone and at the same time we’re doing the right things based on science and not just treating fear.

Schuster: It’s been incredibly interesting. Every day is a new challenge – which is not unlike infection prevention. I have had exposure to a lot of things that I wouldn’t normally be exposed to on a daily basis. I’ve also been able to share a lot of what infection prevention and control does that people don’t realize.  

Friday: There has been a lot of collaboration. We’ve been nimble and quick on our feet. At the end of the day, we’ve continually tried to ask every single day, “How can we do better? How can we improve?” and then adjust our sails. Whether it’s a significant or slight change, we are staying the course but adjusting to meet the needs of the system as the incident changes.

Forrester: It is ever-changing. The neatest thing for me has been meeting people who I wouldn’t have normally interacted with. It’s been really interesting to see the organization grow with us. We’ll need to evolve, but much of that needed to probably happen anyway.

What are you most proud of when you consider the work of the past 100 days?

Schuster: Overall, we’ve been able to keep our workforce and patients safe. That’s pretty incredible when you think about the fact that we have more than 11,000 employees and clinicians. I’m also proud of the collaboration with the community – it’s been incredibly inspiring. It’s nice to see people want to work together across the region.

Wright: We formed a coherent team that quickly developed excellent relationships with each other, yet retained the ability to make quick decisions. Sometimes I have found that in business we lack the interpersonal skills and forget to stop and consider that we’re all people. We’ve created a truly safe learning environment – it’s ok to make mistakes. People feel safe and open to contribute.

Alessandrini: I’ve had the privilege to serve as the executive sponsor for this team. I could not be more proud of the way they have come together, bravely, to do the right thing, always and to embody Our UC Health Way, creating and role modeling standard work, continuous improvement and being intentional about how we treat each other. Their interprofessional teamwork and resilience has been remarkable. Even when things were hard or something failed, the team never gave up – keeping their focus on doing the right things for our patients and for our colleagues and teammates.

Anything else interesting we should know about you?

Smulian: I’m originally from South Africa. A fellowship in infectious disease brought me to UC. I spent 25 years doing funded basic science research before assuming a more clinical role.

Schuster: I have a large 4 leaf clover collection. I have an insane ability to identify them quickly, even in a crowded space with other plants or weeds. I like giving them as gifts.

Wright: I drive race cars. I own a 1988 Honda CRX that I race regularly, often with my brother. I went to medical school in St Louis, where I met my wife. We couples matched for residency training in Cincinnati – so we came here and never left (other than four years in the Air Force in Dayton).  

Forrester: I like to garden – my whole backyard is basically edible. The rest of my free time is spent raising my kids – they are ages 13, 10 and 7.

Bonus Content:
After spending nearly a thousand hours together over the past 100 days, we asked the Core Team to vote on superlatives for each other.

Most likely to get out of a breakout room: Laura

Most likely to have their own reality TV show: Jen

Most likely to be on Jeopardy: George

Most likely to crack a joke during a meeting: Stewart

Most likely to survive on a deserted island: Maria