Answering the Call – Taking a Different Path during this Time of Crisis



As a daughter, granddaughter, and niece of healthcare professionals, I knew there had to be something else I could do to help the COVID-19 efforts that seemed to be quickly impacting everyone's life across our organization. I felt that I had to answer the call by taking a new path. 

I joined Providence St. Joseph Health a year ago in the role of land use planning director for Real Estate Strategy and Operations (RESO). My background as an urban planner offers me the opportunity to speak with local jurisdictions, their decision-makers, and the community at large. Planners wear many hats – technical expert, policy advocate, consensus builder, etc. even though I'm not a front line caregiver, I knew that there had to be something more I could do. After a few conversations with my core leader, Andrew Haslam, he and I decided it would be useful to reach out to the executive directors on our team and see how I could assist with the COVID-19 planning efforts. This desire to do more led me down the path to the Government Affairs team, and now I am helping that team, led by Ali Santori, group vice president, Government Affairs. 

Link between Government Affairs and Real Estate Strategy and Operations

Since engaging with Government Affairs, I've been tracking Alternative Care Sites, moratoriums on evictions, and funding opportunities through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). It has been great to be a liaison between the work that RESO is doing and the efforts led through Government Affairs. I'm also thinking about how this virus will impact our built environment and planning efforts going forward. Our vision and role in creating and maintaining healthy communities are quickly evolving. Factors from the social determinants of health, such as housing security, mental health services, and food access, will be even more critical. Emergency preparedness is now front of mind, and as digital patient care/telehealth rapidly expands, our physical space may change too. 
The challenges to supporting the effort

I am learning the importance of cross-functional collaboration. There are a lot of regulations at the State level; I had no idea we would need so many waivers to operate additional healthcare facilities or increase capacity during a pandemic. For instance, in Washington, it took a coordinated effort over a few weeks with local city and state agencies to get all of the necessary waivers in place to reopen Walla Walla General. Specifically, we needed waivers for licensed care beds and pharmacy specifically for COVID-19 Alternative Care Sites. During this time, I was in regular contact with our local RESO construction manager, who was working on prepping the facility, our legal and government affairs teams who were advocating for the waivers, and our pharmacy lead. Once the waivers are in place, we can meet the COVID patient overflow if the needs warrant.

Connecting the Work with the Mission

Right now, we are all vulnerable; we need to take care of ourselves and each other. The work that I'm doing with Government Affairs will help us to build healthy communities. For instance, moratoriums on evictions are essential for housing security—directly tied to our values of compassion and justice. Overall, I'm grateful to be working with such amazing and talented people. I've had interactions with many departments and people I wouldn't typically work with my role. I am thankful for their grace as I've been ramping up and the high standards we hold ourselves to at PSJH through our value of excellence.

I feel fortunate that I can offer my skills to help out the broader organization and our communities. I am not in a direct patient care role, but I can make an impact on how care is delivered to ease the way of our frontline caregivers and the patients they serve.  

At Providence, it is our calling to serve the poor and vulnerable. During this time of crisis, our calling may lead us to take a different path and step away from our "day jobs" in service to the Mission.

Suzanne Schwab, Land Use Planning Director, Real Estate Strategy and Operations

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