Wednesday, 24 February 2021 08:47

“This year has been a roller coaster”

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Describing COVID-19’s impact on the world as devastating would be an understatement. With millions of people globally infected, and thousands of dead alone in the U.S., the pandemic has affected every aspect of life, including economically.

March 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the deadly pandemic. The Houston Health Department has been at the forefront of the battle, working non-stop trying to manage and combat this fatal virus.

City Savvy compiled a list of questions for HHD employees to get their perspective of what this past year has been like for them. Instead of cherry-picking quotes from them, we decided to share with you their thoughts on the matter and let you “see what they’ve seen” from their eyes and experience.

A huge thank you to the HHD Public Information Office for collaborating with us and helping compile these answers.

rmansarayRahmatu Mansaray, Special Populations

What is the one word you would use to describe the last year Houston Health Department Employees has had as they tackled the COVID-19 virus?

This last year has been unpredictable! 

Is it fair to say that no one saw events unfolding the way they have?

Absolutely, it took most people by surprise and we have all learned to pivot and course correct. 

What has stood out the most to you as you’ve watched HHD employees as they have continued to work during this crisis? 

HHD employees are resilient, determined and truly dedicated to their work. 

How does tackling a pandemic as a City of Houston Health Department employee differ from any other COH employee?

Being part of the HHD, we get to interface with other COH departments/employees, because we not only focus on the health of the communities we serve, but we also aim to address the challenges/social determinants of health. 

Is there anything I left out that you would like to include?

HHD employees have continued to show up each day to work and take on various tasks and roles as needed to fulfill the mission of Protecting the H!

khendersonKaylan Henderson, Testing Operations

What is the one word you would use to describe the last year Houston Health Department Employees has had as they tackled the COVID-19 virus? 

Resourceful

Is it fair to say that no one saw events unfolding the way they have? 

Yes, we could never have predicted the amount of loss that we have seen in our personal lives and within our work families.  

What has stood out the most to you as you’ve watched HHD employees as they have continued to work during this crisis?

Flexibility to adjust to the changing COVID-19 environment.  HHD employees have an unwavering nature about themselves which shows in their constant compassion in how our employees have made individuals feel when inquiries are asked, when they call for appointments, how individuals are treated when they come to be tested, and when they receive their vaccination.

How does tackling a pandemic as a City of Houston Health Department employee differ from any other COH employee?

It is one seamless effort.  While HHD may appear to be in the forefront (press conferences and testing sites, etc.) other departments support our COVID-19 success.  For example, Fuel Maintenance Department (provides fuel for testing sites), Human Resources (safety officers for testing and vaccination sites), Public Works (cones and dumpsters), Mayors Office of Special Events (handwashing, port-a-cans, signage at testing and vaccination sites) HPD (security), Parks and Recreation, and Public Libraries, just to name a few.  The help of these other departments provides the continuity needed for a successful COVID-19 effort.

Is there anything I left out that you would like to include?

HHD Employees have continued to stand up against the fight for COVID-19 to protect the Houston community.  When we are called upon, there is no hesitation; we are constantly asking what more we can do.

tjohnsonTia Johnson, Testing Operations

What is the one word you would use to describe the last year Houston Health Department Employees has had as they tackled the COVID-19 virus? 

Anomalous 

Is it fair to say that no one saw events unfolding the way they have? 

Absolutely. I think a lot of us expected this to go on for a few months, maybe even six, but not a year. COVID pretty much took all of 2020 and is now going into 2021. I am hopeful that with the vaccine, we'll begin to see a significant decrease in positive cases and overtime things can get back to normal. 

What has stood out the most to you as you’ve watched HHD employees as they have continued to work during this crisis?

Resiliency. HHD employees have sacrificed a lot during this pandemic, working long hours in extreme weather conditions and doing so without complaining, but pushing through to protect the health and well-being of Houstonians to the best of our ability. 

How does tackling a pandemic as a City of Houston Health Department employee differ from any other COH employee?

All the departments play an important role in tackling this pandemic. HHD employees are on the frontlines and interact directly with hundreds of individuals daily to ensure communities have access to free and convenient COVID testing. Our Call Center handles thousands of calls per day and hears firsthand the experiences of those directly affected by COVID; and our Contact Tracing Unit plays a critical role in this unprecedented time and contributes immensely to stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Houston. So, we get to experience the operational and practical side of it all.

Is there anything I left out that you would like to include?

No, thank you.

challCallie Hall, Data Services

What is the one word you would use to describe the last year Houston Health Department Employees has had as they tackled the COVID-19 virus?

This year has been a rollercoaster. 

Is it fair to say that no one saw events unfolding the way they have?

From the beginning, the expectation of the course of Coronavirus was that it would be a flash in the pan and would dissipate as quickly as it appeared, like Ebola. There was a disconnect between what I saw on the social media outlets and what was unfolding in the U.S., and then the tide turned. Hindsight is much clearer that this would be a very difficult pandemic. 

What has stood out the most to you as you’ve watched HHD employees as they have continued to work during this crisis?

The one word that comes to mind as I watch HHD employees new and old is longsuffering. The patience and flexibility they have exhibited is amazing. 

How does tackling a pandemic as a City of Houston Health Department employee differ from any other COH employee?

Many of my friends and family looked to me to give insight on symptoms, testing and now vaccines. It comes along with being an HHD employee. 

Is there anything I left out that you would like to include?

Working during this point in history has been a highlight in my time here at HHD, and the value of this experience is immeasurable.

rboothBeau Mitts, Data Services

What is the one word you would use to describe the last year Houston Health Department Employees has had as they tackled the COVID-19 virus?

Inspiring 

Is it fair to say that no one saw events unfolding the way they have?

I believe public health officials understood how this pandemic could progress if the proper response was not implemented early.  The HHD team continues to change direction and address new challenges as they arise.

What has stood out the most to you as you’ve watched HHD employees as they have continued to work during this crisis?

The team at HHD is amazing and dedicated to serving Houstonians, continuing their service through exhaustion.

How does tackling a pandemic as a City of Houston Health Department employee differ from any other COH employee?

As an HHD employee and steward of public health, we are often seen as subject matter experts on public health emergencies such as this pandemic.  We are here to protect all Houstonians through best public health practices, something we do every day both before and after COVID-19.

Is there anything I left out that you would like to include?

It is sometimes frustrating that we don’t see important public health measures implemented and adopted by the public here in the U.S. That we see in other countries that have successfully managed this pandemic.

tbroussardTristan Broussard, Data Services

What is the one word you would use to describe the last year Houston Health Department Employees has had as they tackled the COVID-19 virus?

Evolving

Is it fair to say that no one saw events unfolding the way they have?

For the most part.

What has stood out the most to you as you’ve watched HHD employees as they have continued to work during this crisis?

There is some good talent and potential among the staff. People who really want to do the best work possible and curious to learn and offer ideas, with hopes of leaving their mark in this field. 

How does tackling a pandemic as a City of Houston Health Department employee differ from any other COH employee?

Given that 2020 was a public health event, many are looking for that confidence from expertise, and this along with healthcare workers is where we come in.  Constantly working with the community to investigate, educate, and build not only to strengthen the healthcare industries response, but the individual citizens capacity to effectively impact quality life in their surroundings.  

Is there anything I left out that you would like to include?

Many HHD employees have taken a lot on their shoulders and have remained flexible to constant change. When things are constantly changing it can really do a number on all the staff, but many continue to keep making the most of it day by day.  

ahashimDr. Aftab Hashim, Administration Manager-Testing

What is the one word you would use to describe the last year Houston Health Department Employees has had as they tackled the COVID-19 virus?

Rewarding

Is it fair to say that no one saw events unfolding the way they have?

Somewhat

What has stood out the most to you as you’ve watched HHD employees as they have continued to work during this crisis?

Team spirit and commitment.

How does tackling a pandemic as a City of Houston Health Department employee differ from any other COH employee?

I believe everyone is playing their roles of continuously providing public health services to the community. Staff who are not directly involve  are tackling the pandemic,  and managing on-going programs with limited staffing, etc. Hence, all are playing significant role.

Throughout this ordeal, the rewards have been few and far between I imagine. What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job, and what has been the most challenging?

It is absolutely rewarding to serve the community when needed the most, keeping staff motivated to provide best quality services to the community and contributing to eliminate COVID-19. Challenging is uncertainty. 

In an earlier story, Savvy asked COH employees what their 2019 selves would tell their 2020 selves about that particular year. Looking ahead, what advice would your 2020 self say to your 2021 self about the year you’ve been through, and what to look forward to in the coming year?

2020 to 2021 – Never be discouraged and keep up the good work

Look forward - There is light at the end of the tunnel.

What is a key takeaway you want readers to understand about the work you in the city health department is doing to help keep Houston residents and employees safe?

We are here to serve our community, and working together we will defeat COVID-19 and any other public health challenges that come to us.

Is there anything I left out that you would like to include?

We are certainly thankful to our community for their support, assistance, and appreciation for our work. 

rgutierrezRene Gutierrez - Incident Commander 

What is the one word you would use to describe the last year Houston Health Department Employees has had as they tackled the COVID-19 virus?

Resilience, challenging

Is it fair to say that no one saw events unfolding the way they have?

True

What has stood out the most to you as you’ve watched HHD employees as they have continued to work during this crisis?

Teamwork, the courageous work to help get back to normal

How does tackling a pandemic as a City of Houston Health Department employee differ from any other COH employee?

We work the front lines in getting results and helping track the virus.

Throughout this ordeal, the rewards have been few and far between I imagine. What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job, and what has been the most challenging?

 The most rewarding part of this job is serving our community and the most challenging would be worrying  about catching the virus while on the job.  

In an earlier story, Savvy asked COH employees what their 2019 selves would tell their 2020 selves about that particular year. Looking ahead, what advice would your 2020 self say to your 2021 self about the year you’ve been through, and what to look forward to in the coming year?

Always stay safe by sanitizing your hands and wearing your mask. Be grateful, be patient and hope the vaccine is effective soon. 

What is a key takeaway you want readers to understand about the work you in the city health department is doing to help keep Houston residents and employees safe? 

We are helping provide COVID results as soon as possible to help stop the spread in Houston residents and follow health protocols to prevent the spread in office.

Is there anything I left out that you would like to include? 

No, this was very informative