One of the best parts about being the managing editor of Strategic Communications Group’s Buyer Communities is the opportunity to interview our sponsors’ subject matter experts about all manner of topics. To a person, these subject matter experts are not just well-versed in their organizations’ solutions, but they are keenly attuned to the issues that their colleagues in industry are facing, often because they’ve been in that role and those situations themselves.
NetApp’s Spencer Hamons is one of those rare individuals. I first interviewed Spencer in the lead up to HIMSS 2015. Not only did we talk about the day’s big issues, but his work as an Army medic and as a rural healthcare CIO. While Spencer started his healthcare CIO career in a big city hospital, he was in his element when he was running health systems operations in rural environments including Colorado, Alaska, and New Mexico, where he lives today. As well as helping clients architect data management solutions, Spencer is also a volunteer pilot and emergency service specialist for the Civil Air Patrol.
“In New Mexico a service like the Civil Air Patrol is essential in so many ways,” he shared. “While it’s the fifth largest state by land mass, the entire state has only 2 million people, and 900,000 of them live in Albuquerque.” What this also means is that most New Mexicans, like most Americans living in rural communities, are underserved when it comes to healthcare, a situation that is all the more acute during a public health crisis, like COVID19.
Spencer explained that “from a rural healthcare perspective, this virus is dangerous because of the ability to overrun healthcare facilities, particularly smaller hospitals with less comprehensive treatment capabilities. In a normal environment, when a small hospital encounters a problem, the standard procedure is to transfer the patient to a tertiary care facility for a higher level of care. However, in the COVID19 world, this may not be possible, particularly in a state that only has about 2,700 hospital beds total.”
To help New Mexico’s hospitals and providers stay ahead of the wave of potential infections, the Civil Air Patrol worked with local governments, federal agencies, and private institutions to gather up critical personal protective equipment (PPE) and distribute it across the state. “You can imagine how long it would take traditional freight carriers to distribute critical equipment over all 121,590 square miles,” said Spencer. “But the Civil Air Patrol was able to distribute all the gear to rural facilities in less than two days. And, while we were at it, we were also able to take some testing kits to rural communities on the western side of Colorado.”
Another advantage in using the Civil Air Patrol and volunteer pilots to distribute essential supplies was that it aligned with social distancing. “The airplanes can only carry about 1,200 pounds of useful load, including fuel,” explained Spencer. “Therefore each pilot could load their own cargo reducing the interaction with people. But what also helped limit exposure was that we were home in our own houses each night, rather than being on the road for multiple days.”
So far, in New Mexico, the COVID19 situation is stable and the advance planning as well as the early lockdown decision seem to be paying dividends. “As of April 1st, the state has 315 positive tests, but has conducted over 13,000 tests,” said Spencer. “I feel very fortunate to be part of the Civil Air Patrol and being able to use my passion for flying and the volunteer time that NetApp affords all of its team members to help ensure the health and safety of our rural communities, especially at this critical time.”