Essential in a Momentous Time
Flint Hill alumni are ready, willing and mobile
Facing the uncertainty and challenges from COVID-19, Flint Hill alumni used their skills and talents to lend a hand to others. They stepped forward with compassion to offer essential services — from providing medical care to assisting with food supply to helping job seekers. Undauntedly, they initiated groundbreaking programs, volunteered in their communities, and implemented new technologies to provide immediate solutions.
THE DOCTOR IS IN AND ONLINE
The technology to provide remote health care services to patients was in place at precisely the right time, as the coronavirus began to quickly spread, and Dr. Megan Whitman ’11, a high-risk pregnancy management fellow with the University of Virginia’s Health System, was ready to put it to use. “I work on teams that have been more frequently incorporating telehealth options to best care for our patients and limit face-to-face interactions to limit exposures to the virus. Pregnancy can already be a vulnerable time for many women, and I’m glad I’ve been able to help guide women through this time with safety and the best possible health outcomes at the forefront of our minds.”
In addition to the virtual component, Whitman continued seeing patients in person as needed, including some who contracted COVID-19 during their pregnancies. “It’s been very meaningful to me to be by my patients’ sides during times that can be scary and far from normal, particularly when having their partner in the room for clinic visits or ultrasounds are limited to prevent the spread of disease. The time that most stands out to me is in helping a particular patient through a very challenging diagnosis and pregnancy decision while her partner and mother, who traveled with her for hours to be seen, could not be in the room. Being able to be there for her, be her advocate, and help her feel at peace with her care during such an uncertain time was so rewarding.”
Whitman was also involved with generating medical guidelines for the hospital’s neonatology and maternal-fetal medicine teams, with regard to the management of pregnant patients affected by COVID-19. She detailed some of the necessary extra precautions that were established. “I’m masked and using PPE [personal protective equipment] in all patient-facing activities,” and “we have also been optimizing prenatal care visits and schedules to try to limit the amount of visits a patient is scheduled for, as a way to prevent exposure opportunities.” Even outside of work, while still in training, she took additional preventative steps, by living apart from her spouse and family.
As patient-care protocol systems evolve in the future, Whitman envisions that online visits are here to stay, along with in-clinic appointments. “We will likely see more and more telehealth now that we know it is a reasonable option to help our patients, particularly those who live in more rural communities. While I love to see my patients in person, sometimes the travel involved is a burden, or some patients want more frequent contact without the barriers of waiting in a busy waiting room, while others want more ownership over their health management and have begun to use at-home blood pressure monitors and to email their blood glucose results. I think these experiences really empower our patients and may be something we incorporate into patient-care long-term. There is no doubt that in-person visits will still be required for many health issues, rather I see telehealth becoming a more frequent adjunct to prenatal care.”
NOURISHMENT TO GO
The economic impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry caused many businesses to make significant changes to their operations — some reinventing their business models, others scaling back, and others having to close. As a chef, Matt Pellerito ’01 experienced the effects at Restaurant Associates (RA), his employer, which specializes as an on-site dining management company that serves corporate workplaces, cultural and entertainment centers, professional schools, and catered events in New York, Washington, Boston, and Atlanta.
Through RA, Pellerito works as a contractor at a café that serves employees of Amazon Web Services, where adaptations were promptly made to operate on a limited basis and provide grab-and-go options. Pellerito also got creative with making online cooking demonstration videos for the employees. “So much has changed for us,” he reflected, “and we do not entirely know what the future holds. I am currently working with some of our upper management to develop a plan to re-open our operation, as Amazon slowly repopulates their office buildings around the country. Our program will look much different than before, and many of the details have yet to be determined or understood.”
While adjusting to the changes at his workplace and in his own life — juggling time with his 5-year-old son — Pellerito also was aware of the needs in the greater community and empathetic to the obstacles his industry colleagues had to overcome. Compelled to help, he volunteered with World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization founded by Chef José Andrés to provide food relief during disasters and emergency situations. “I cannot express how grateful I am to assist with such monumental efforts, such as what World Central Kitchen is doing during this crisis,” he said. “COVID-19 has touched so many lives across the country and around the world. My part may be small, but it is part of a larger goal and that is to continue to offer nourishment and healthy meals to those who struggle to put food on the table or for those who barely have a moment to eat, as they continue to work around the clock to keep communities safe and care for those affected.”
Pellerito described the consequences of the pandemic on his industry as long-term and widespread. “The initial closure of businesses within the hospitality industry and subsequent phased re-opening and limited service capability has had a massive trickle-down effect on other industries. We in hospitality depend greatly on our suppliers and vendors. Once we ceased to order anything on a regular basis, that began to financially impact farmers, manufacturers, fisheries, butchers, equipment suppliers, repair companies, delivery companies, etc. Not just small ones, even the large suppliers have been crushed by the impact of COVID-19.”
Still, his knowledge of what makes the industry special and necessary, and his dedication to it, keeps him grounded in hope. “I am confident that we will move forward in a positive direction, and my industry, specifically, will thrive again. It may look different, it may feel different, but human interaction, celebration, intimacy, creating memories are aspects of human life we will always hold in high value. Hospitality is how we provide the setting and service for people to create those lasting moments. With time, we will see a brighter future, but, for now, we must remain patient and diligent.”
EMPLOYING AN INITIATIVE FOR JOB SEEKERS
When the calendar turned to January 2020, college seniors had reason to be optimistic in the job market ahead. By late February, some had already accepted positions to begin after graduation and felt secure about having a strong start to their careers. And suddenly, by the end of March, with stay-at-home orders and quarantines, the unemployment pattern — job losses, furloughs, and rescinded offers — emerged in a multitude of industries.
Relatively new to the workforce himself, Zane Homsi ’15, knew what it felt like to be excited about life after college. A year prior, he completed his studies at the University of Virginia (UVA), moved to San Francisco, and started a new job as a strategy analyst at LinkedIn. Thinking about how dramatically different the situation would be for the 2020 graduates, he came up with an idea to help. “Students+ [originally College vs. COVID],” he explained, “is an initiative I started within the LinkedIn community to do two things: connect students with expert career guidance and deliver key recruiting resources. COVID hit home for me when my alma mater, UVA, closed campus. At that point, I felt that there were students that were incredibly qualified and capable that now had the odds stacked against them.”
Connecting others to a network of opportunities has been rewarding for Homsi, who understood the essential role that LinkedIn could play during the crisis. “The company’s mission (creating economic opportunity for a global workforce) has come to life during the pandemic in ways I never could have expected,” he said. “Through the content we create and ways we engage with our students, the Students+ team has been so lucky to watch these students reclaim the period of time as one to focus inward and make it such that, when restrictions are lifted, they come out more prepared, rested and motivated than ever. Our biggest successes have come from students expressing how the resources and advice we share have impacted their journey – in the best cases, that they were able to land a job with the help of our work.”
Not one to sit on the sidelines, Homsi encourages the Flint Hill Class of 2020 and Flint Hill students to be prepared when opportunities arise and to feel comforted by the supportive community that surrounds them. To the graduates of this and next year, he suggests, “While it might not be obvious now, governments, corporations, NGOs, schools, and communities around the world are working around the clock to figure out how to help you. As a member of the class of 2020 or 2021, you’ll forever be able to carry with you a story that will compel anyone to extend their hand to help you. What an opportunity! … Do your part, so that when life extends you an opportunity, you’re able and ready to grab onto it with both hands.”
And his message to the rest of the student body: “The world is changing rapidly and people will be spending more time trying to piece together what life might look like. What does this mean? It means that our community members will have less and less time to get a read on how you might be doing. If you are having a rough day or need help, raise your hand and let someone know – being your own lifeline is one of the greatest signs of strength. If you are having a great day, awesome – share the joy! Happiness is precious. What I’d love to see is a group of students that have spent time exercising their self-awareness muscle such that no pandemic or loss to Potomac can shake us too much!”