Texas Tech University System Chancellor Tedd Mitchell and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Interim President Lori Rice-Spearman discussed the TTUHSC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in a live-stream hosted on Friday morning.
“What we’re doing is, we’re trying to have a Facebook live presentation for all the different campuses and we thought there’d be no better place to start than here at the Health Sciences Center because it is in the heart of everything going on related to the COVID-19 virus,” Mitchell said.
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic across all of the TTUHSC's campuses has been encouraging, Spearman said. The leadership teams have accomplished much, in addition to to the individuals in academics and operations, she said.
The IT team in particular has stepped up at the forefront of the response, as 80 percent of the TTUHSC’s workforce has moved to home, she said. The remaining 20 percent are the front-line staff, who are staying to provide care across all of the campuses in addition to managed care individuals.
“As a part of the leadership team, it has been so encouraging to watch everyone roll up their sleeves and be very solution focused, you know how can we solve this problem,” she said. “It has been very encouraging.”
But, up until this point, the institution has been in a sprint, a very high-stakes sprint, as it responds to the crisis, Spearman said. Now, it must settle in for a marathon. The university has put into place what is necessary to be successful and will continue to lean into that.
“It’s now time for us to move from survival mode into thrive mode,” she said.
On the other side of this virus, she said Tech will emerge as a very forward and visionary thinking university that has solved problems which will allow it to persist post-pandemic and find success. The pandemic has even led to incredible collaborations between the TTUHSC and main campus that were not in place prior to the crisis.
“Really, it brought down all of these barriers that were in place and got people really working together,” she said.
An example is the work being done in the Biosafety Level 3 lab at Reece Technology Center, she said. The TTUHSC partnered with the lab to begin the transition from more of research laboratory to a clinical laboratory doing diagnostic patient testing for COVID-19 for 67 counties.
“(We) developed this strong partnership between TTU and TTUHSC that allowed us to bring that laboratory quickly up to capacity for testing,” she said.
Additionally a team from the TTUHSC is pulling in engineering and health related scientists from Tech. They have done phenomenal things, such as buildings masks which have already been delivered for use, she said. They are also looking to see how a ventilator that is typically used to serve one individual can be converted into a double or quadruple, which is particularly relevant for rural communities that may have few numbers of ventilators.
In the future following the pandemic, if the partnerships built in this situation are intentionally maintained, there is potential for phenomenal things to be accomplished down the line, Spearman said.
“One of the things we’ve always wanted to do is collaborate closely with our engineering individuals,” she said. "We feel like it’s a natural marriage of our university and our sister university for us to be innovators in that space.”
Another uplifting response to the pandemic has come from the student body, she said. The students have been burning up the phone lines asking how they can help. Third and fourth year medical students are working in areas at the HSC, University Medical Center, Covenant and the drive through clinics, as well as babysitting, grocery shopping and more for front-line staff.
The community has also been incredible, she said, donating over 1600 boxes of gloves, thousands of N95 masks, and many individuals wanting to make masks.
“We are so grateful to our community,” she said. “Our mayor constantly reaches out to both the Chancellor and myself to make sure we have a coordinated effort and we are in close communication with all of our hospitals we serve in the area. So we continue to be very excited about the response and that we are being comprehensive in our response.”
Looking to the future, as the initial motivation from the front end of this crisis fades, that motivation has to be replaced with discipline, Mitchell said.
Everything people have heard about social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitizers, maintaining appropriate distance and more needs to become second nature, he said. To protect the most vulnerable amongst this community, everyone has to remain disciplined.
“We have to remain disciplined about the way we deliver our academies, we’ve got to remain disciplined about the way we take care of one another, but if we will do those things, and if we’ll apply the values that have been ingrained in the folks at the Health Sciences Center, I’m sure we’re going to come out of this thing on the other side of it a whole lot better off than we were going into it,” he said.