How Middletown is battling the coronavirus, led by its health commissioner

As Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips and her staff work long hours guiding the city’s efforts fighting the coronavirus, she said public health officials have been planning for incidents since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Phillips said public health officials across the state and region have completed training scenarios and drills that featured practice for an anthrax pandemic, natural disasters, quickly establishing an alternative care center, and other critical events.

“This is the real deal,” she said. “While I feel comfortable that we’ve developed plans for various scenarios, on the flip side I still feel inadequate about the response. We try to be everything to everyone everywhere.”

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Phillips said a “monster virus” is added to all plans as a “what-if” scenario.

“Things happen so fast,” she said. “By the time we get systems up and players connected, things change and happens so fast that we’re actually playing catch-up…. This isn’t over and maybe by mid-April or mid-May we’ll see the peak. It depends how saturated things get and how quick numbers start to double.”

Phillips has worked in the healthcare field for 30 years. She joined the Middletown health department as a public health nurse in 1997. A year later she became director of nursing and has served as the city health commissioner since 2010.

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As of midday Friday, Middletown has six confirmed cases of COVID-19, and one of those people has already recovered.

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Phillips has been working 16 to 18 hours a day taking care of a myriad of details. She and her staff also monitor people who are suspected of having COVID-19 and make sure they are following the self-quarantine guidelines and logging their temperatures.

Before she arrives at her office between 8 and 9 a.m. at the Middletown City Building, Phillips may have already been on phone calls earlier in the morning with city medical director Dr. Paul Jennewine and other city leaders such as Acting City Manager Susan Cohen, Mayor Nicole Condrey and other council members and department heads.

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Phillips meets with the incident command center at 9:30 a.m. which is followed up by conference calls with the county Emergency Management Agency, connections with community partners, hospital surge discussions, listening to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s 2 p.m. daily press conference and President Donald Trump’s press conference, and gathering updates from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Phillips and Ohio’s 112 other health commissioners have aconference call with Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

Phillips said she is in her office until 6 or 7 p.m. and is continuing to make calls or answer emails and texts late into the night.

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“I don’t mind being on the front lines because you have to have people with heart and not afraid to be out there. It’s a calling and I’m supposed to be there, Phillips said. “No one has gone through this before,” Phillips said. “People are scared and its understandable.”

She said she is following the “three Fs,” faith, family and facts, to get through the pandemic.

“Ohio has been proactive and aggressive for being one of the first states to respond to coronavirus,” Phillips said. “I believe having the Miami University students quarantined put the issue on the state’s radar in late January. He (DeWine) listened to Acton and listened to the scientists. I don’t think we could have had any better leadership than the governor and Acton.”

FAST FACTS: Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips

  • Jackie Phillips has worked in the healthcare field for over 30 years, joining the Health Department in 1997 in Middletown.
  • She was promoted to director of nursing in 1998.
  • Phillips became health commissioner in 2010.
  • She is a current member of the Ohio Public Health Association, the Southwest Ohio Health Commissioners Association, and United Way Cincinnati.
  • Phillips received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Miami University and her Masters in Public Health from Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University.
  • She is a community volunteer and a Middletown resident.

SOURCE: City of Middletown website

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