244: How the Pandemic Changed PH Comms

In a special edition of the newscast, Dr. Khalilah LeGrand, the Interim Chief of Staff for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, discusses how the pandemic has impacted public health communications while attending the 2022 National...

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In a special edition of the newscast, Dr. Khalilah LeGrand, the Interim Chief of Staff for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, discusses how the pandemic has impacted public health communications while attending the 2022 National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media, hosted by the National Public Health Information Coalition and the CDC.

NPHIC Webpage: 2022 National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, August 18th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson, reporting from Atlanta with a special edition of the newscast brought to you by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. 

We're here for the 2022 National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media. Today, we're talking about how the pandemic has impacted public health communications. Our guest is Dr. Khalilah LeGrand, the Interim Chief of Staff for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. 
Let's talk a little bit about some of the communications lessons from COVID. There have been quite a few. You and I have chatted about this off-mic. One of them is more focus on communications infrastructure. What do you mean by that? 
I think with communications infrastructure, the lesson we've learned from COVID is to implement a stronger communications infrastructure: making sure you know who to quickly communicate with; having community partners, strategic influencers at the ready to enhance communication efforts. Stakeholder meetings were very important. Town halls, information sessions were very important. 
And so, I think what we've done is because we've now strengthened those relationships and we've improved that infrastructure, we have been able to now utilize that for other things—for instance, monkeypox. Right now, where each state is differently dealing with the monkeypox outbreak, but they're able to utilize that same infrastructure for the vaccine efforts related and information efforts related to this particular issue.
Is template another way of referring to infrastructure here? We sort of have a playbook now. 
Yeah, I would absolutely say that when we think about our incident command structure—which I'm sure most states would say they needed to strengthen—that we've been able to do that. And so, working with state and local governments, working with other states, looking at best practice models, I think that has certainly given us a great template on how to manage crises very quickly and especially longstanding crises. 
So, you know, certainly we had a template from H1N1, but nothing prepared us for COVID, but we could use some of the information from H1N1 to help influence our template. And now, we have improved it because of the COVID pandemic, and now we can utilize that for other efforts. 
It would seem that with a pandemic that is still going on, but has been in our world for more than two years, that we've pretty well turned over every stone. Do you think that we have covered all of the bases, that we've experienced everything that we're gonna run into, and that now we're really better off when it comes to dealing with whatever is next? 
I do. I think we are better off at preparing for what's next. I do think there needs to be more focus and infrastructure relative to the number of people that are dealing with health communications. I think people saw the need for health communicators. Some people have had the opportunity in their states to expand their staff. Some people are still trying to push forward to expand staff and really give people the ability to enhance their efforts. 
I would also say we have a lot of young people at this conference and it's been great to see them. And we understand the need for making sure a younger generation understands the importance and the benefit of having health communications at the forefront of any public health initiative. 
Public health leaders, people who are appointed by governors, listen to this newscast. Is that the main message as it relates to their communications departments? Give more resources, put more people on the front lines, and then listen to them?
Absolutely. I would say that's a huge component of this, is making sure that people know that you do have to have boots on the ground. You do have to have folks that are strategizing. And so, when you have a good team and you've built that team out, you can quickly navigate how to handle any issue and especially communicating it out. 
Certainly, epidemiologists and other folks that are in public health are really instrumental, but the communicators are the ones who synthesize that information and share it out. And they have to do that in a way that is palatable and understandable to the public. And so, I think that is huge.
And collaboration—I can't stress how much collaboration is key with government officials with local health departments, with state agencies, with those folks that are in faith-based organizations and other community organizations that can get the word out quickly. Those would be certainly some of the things that I would say are key to us being able to continue moving forward into our next endeavors. 
And if your communications office is functioning properly, it is helping lead those issues and those engagements, isn't it?
Absolutely. You have to be able to lead those engagements because if you don't have your communicators and your communications experts leading the effort, then things can easily fall prey to misinformation and disinformation. We've been talking about that quite a bit at the conference as well. And you have to be able to quickly address the rumor mill, if you will, and be able to share out concise information from credible resources. 
That'll do it for today's newscast. We're reporting again from Atlanta tomorrow morning with another conversation about public health communication.
I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day. 

Khalilah LeGrand EdD

Interim Chief of Staff, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services