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Charlotte Magazine: Pandemic Lessons One Year Later

After a full year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Charlotte magazine’s Greg Lacour asked healthcare professionals what they’ve learned. Tryon CEO Dr. Dale Owen shared his thoughts, looking back at the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, how Tryon quickly pivoted to put a plan in place and what’s in the future (hint: it’s not over yet).

Below are highlights from Dr. Owen’s answers. Read the entire Charlotte magazine article published March 11, 2021.

What are the most important lessons you and your team have learned in the past year?

Owen: “A historical perspective of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was critical. I have had a keen interest in infectious disease since residency and have read dissertations on the pandemic. We still have trouble listening now to what they said then: ‘Wear your masks and don’t open your schools.’ What happened here with COVID-19 was very predictable based on our country’s response to the 1918 Spanish flu. We made the same mistakes and didn’t learn from history.”

How differently would you approach an outbreak of lethal disease based on what you’ve learned since March 2020?

Owen: “The worst thing we can do is assume it’s over when this particular pandemic is under better control. The mechanisms we have put in place to fight coronavirus cannot become extinct; otherwise, we will continue to make the same mistakes again. That level of preparedness has to always be there. We should never have to build from scratch again.”

Where do you think you and your team’s response was strongest? Where do you think it’s most in need of adjustment? Why?

Owen: Our team was nimble and pivoted quickly before the pandemic. Well before the national emergency was declared, Tryon Medical Partners’ Coronavirus Task Force had a plan in place for everything from ramping up virtual visits to setting up satellite COVID testing clinics. This strategy was accomplished and put into place in five days. We didn’t have to form 16 committees to discuss and decide. We just did it. Establishing our practice in 2018 taught us how to move from strategy to operation very quickly. Tryon Medical Partners’ whole response to COVID-19 has been strong, and this practice will remain ready because history has taught us that a similar crisis is going to happen again.”

What advice would you have now for local, state, and federal public health agencies that would help in a response to another epidemic?

Owen: “I was asked to consult with the Biden Administration transition team on this issue. Here’s what I said:

1. We have to have a coordinated national plan, and I personally believe it should not be left up to interpretation by 50 different states and their counties.

2. We need to be able to source all testing material components from inside the United States, which guarantees supply chain. This is how, throughout the pandemic, Tryon Medical Partners was able to maintain a one- to two-day turnaround on COVID-19 testing results.

3. Federal and state systems need to stop relying on outdated means to deliver health care. Relying solely on hospitals and health departments to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine is taking too long. Smaller, more nimble organizations like ours don’t rely on the status quo. We need to get these vaccines out sooner to prevent mutations that will render these vaccines ineffective. The phased rollout has been too slow to accomplish this goal.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

Owen: “We’ve been here before. Don’t forget.”