Wooden Block With Text PLAN
(Credit: Nora Carol Photography / Getty Images)

Anticipating a future pandemic within the next five to 10 years, a joint initiative of business, communications and public health organizations has created a pandemic playbook to help employers be resilient.

Dan Pasquini, communication director for the Health Action Alliance, shared lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and tools included in the organization’s pandemic playbook during a LeadingAge membership call on Wednesday. 

“We wanted to fill the gap for employers and help them set up resiliency in the face of a future pandemic,” Pasquini said. “By all accounts, it won’t be another 100 years before the next pandemic.”

The nonprofit organization, he said, established a “battle rhythm” and understanding of what will be needed to prepare for a future that no one could have imagined a few years ago. The resulting pandemic playbook consolidated those lessons.

Businesses and public health experts realized preparedness takes time, Pasquini said.

“That’s why the moment is now to capture learnings from COVID while it’s still fresh, cultivate relationships with public health and other businesses, and build trust between employees and public health,” he said. 

Part of that preparation is helping organizations understand that poor community health conditions make everyone — including their employees — more vulnerable to serious illness and death, Pasquini said. An unhealthy community jeopardizes an employer’s ability to stay in business, particularly during a crisis, he added.

The core vehicle to improving community health, Pasquini said, is through relationships with local or state public health departments. 

“A big part of it is engaging public health and establishing relationships and keeping employee health going year round — partnering with public health on reliable information, public health programming, clinics for routine immunizations, ongoing best practices,” he said. “It’s about engagement.”

Larger organizations found that adding a chief medical or health officer was invaluable in translating information into plain English and making it digestible for employees, Pasquini said, and smaller companies and organizations banded together and contacted local universities and hospital systems for advice from epidemiologists.

In turn, that outreach, he said, also helped inform epidemiologists’ work in hearing what people needed to know and what they didn’t know, and identifying the misperceptions that existed that medical experts weren’t aware of. 

The end result was growing trust in employers, Pasquini said. The Edelman Trust Barometer, a worldwide trust and credibility survey, found that in the US, employers ranked as the institution that was trusted the most, he said, adding that with low trust in the healthcare system, it’s imperative for employers to partner with public health groups to provide accurate, life-saving information.

“If you, as an employer, are trusted, you can extend that to the public health department through consistent communication informed by and credited to health department programming,” Pasquini said.