Andrea George and Pamela Jones

Recorded November 3, 2021 Archived November 3, 2021 24:49 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ddc002548


Colleagues Andrea George (52) and Pamela "Pam" Jones (62) discuss how they balanced their personal and professional lives at Vanderbilt University during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Subject Log / Time Code

Andrea (A) says she first realized the pandemic would radically change the world when her daughter who lived China called her concerned in January.
A talks about what's most important to her: family, her dog, nature, and technology.
A recalls fall 2020 when there was an overwhelming number of positive cases. She says she learned to face fear and do things anyway.
A says the biggest obstacles in the early days of the pandemic were the lack of data and trying to balance the professional with the personal.
P says a newfound appreciation for health and wellness has been a good thing to come out of the pandemic. She adds that the social and political divide has been a negative outcome of the pandemic.
P and A say they miss how much social interaction they had pre-pandemic.
P and A discuss the long-term mental health affects the pandemic has had on healthcare workers, teachers, students, and others.
P says she is so proud at how the Vanderbilt community came together during the pandemic. A adds that she is proud Vanderbilt made it through without loosing anyone along the way.


  • Andrea George
  • Pamela Jones

Recording Location

E. Bronson Ingram College

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type

Fee for Service


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00:06 I'm Pam Jones. I'm 62 years old. Today's date is November 3rd. 2021 location is Vanderbilt University. And my interview Partners, Andrea George and Andre. And I work together as incident commanders for the Public Health Central Command Center during Vanderbilt's covid response.

00:31 I'm Andrea George. I am 52 years old. Today's date is November 3rd. 2021.

00:40 I'm at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and my interview partner is dr. Pam Jones of a school of nursing here at Vanderbilt. And our relationship is that we have acted as coincident, commanders of Vanderbilt's Public Health response to covid-19.

00:59 So Andrea, it's been quite a year and you and I've gotten to know each other really, really well through this. So it'll be interesting to to explore some of our thoughts together here today. When did you first really realize that the pandemic was going to radically change the world and or your kind of way of life was it? When did that Dawn on you? Yes. Well, I've a bit of an interesting story unusual because my daughter is actually lives in China and had been visiting America of Christmas 2019. And when she returned to China to her husband, that she started calling me very, very concerned that something was happening and she didn't know what was happening. People were getting sick. They couldn't get any information. And people were talking about having to go into quarantine and we really did not have any idea what was happening and that was in January of 2020. So quite a bit earlier than in America.

01:59 So it was very concerning and because I'm at Vanderbilt and because I've been here for twenty-five years. The only thing I need to do is pick up the phone and call some of our world-renowned researchers that I knew. And said, hey, do you know what's going on here? And it turned out, one of them was dr. Mark Dennison, who was one of the people who led the development of the MRNA vaccine technology. And so he was able to fill me in quite a bit. He was able to reassure me that he felt like, you know, she wasn't in imminent danger. We were actually reviewing white every single morning. I would get up at 4 a.m. And look at flights for that day. In case we needed to evacuate her because we just didn't understand what was happening. So that went on throughout January and February and it started actually to calm down a little bit in China, right about the time, that America went a little crazy. Yes, and so I vividly remember,

02:59 March 13th because it was Friday, the 13th, and it was our last day before spring break and my, my family here in America was headed to Florida the following week and we knew we knew something was going on. I knew it was related to what was happening in China and but nobody was really still quite sure. You know, what, what the situation was. And I remember, our office was right next to CVS, and people were flooding into CVS, and buying all of the toilet paper in the disinfectant, be to the point where we couldn't get out of her office. And my staff was very nervous, actually about going out into that kind of crowd in the elevator to go home that day. So I sent them home early.

03:44 And it turned out that was the last time we were in the office for probably almost a year, which was really interesting. And and the first time I went back to the office, I was the first one back. It was like a time capsule, but all the papers have been left exactly. Like they were in the plants were there and food was molded in the refrigerator if it was really fascinating. So I knew I knew then that when people were arguing over toilet paper and a CVS, a new substance for all of us back to those early days and it was just so surreal really almost in an uncomfortable cuz we just didn't know what's going on. No matter and you and I are voracious readers and we get our hands on every thing but there just wasn't enough information to be had. So, you know, I think the other thing I think about a lot is what what is become really important to me and in what what

04:44 Thoughts about kind of as you reflect on what we've been through and what that means to you in terms of what's most important to you. And of course, my my family, my dog's been such a source of Happiness, being sequestered at home. Really, really, I think of two things when I think about what's most important to me now and other than my family, of course, of my dogs and what is nature being we weren't, we worked round the clock for so many days in a row and so hard and I was in my dining room and that was my view, was my dining room for hours and hours on in. And it really started to affect my physical health, my mental health, and but very negatively. And so getting out and walking in my neighborhood, I've counted, I've walked around my neighborhood more than a thousand times in the past year-and-a-half and the state parks in Tennessee, where such a refuge for my

05:44 Because we felt safe there. We don't feel like we were being exposed, but we can get out and have a different View and get out in the nature.

05:51 And I really hate to say this, but technology has become so much more important. I think throughout this pandemic. Where is things have become so much, a less important through the pandemic, but for us for you, and I, I mean, we have run a virtual Command Center for almost two years made up of people who would never met each other before the pandemic. In fact, you and I I never met each other before the end of it. And you know, why I hate to say it, but teams and zoom have been such a lifesaver that we've run the entire Command Center on teams and zoom and email. And zoom was so important for me to be able to see people to be able to see another face throughout the day cuz for days and days on it. And all I saw was my husband, right? You know, what not even.

06:41 This is really important. Be able to see people for my staff. I felt it was very important for me to be able to see them but kind of is a well check visually to see how people were doing. We always had on camera zoom so I can see everybody. Plus. I felt like it helped everybody is mental, health teams was such a lifesaver as well because we could just chat all day and teams even as stressful as it was all the time and a stressful is it. We could share a meme or we could share a gif or whatever that we can make each other laugh and really support each other. And and I could see in real time when somebody was really starting to get overtired or over stressed and starting to degrade and I could tell them to step away. I could say, you know what, the rest of the team's got this for the next 2 hours, you step away and take a nap and come back and join us later on when you're working in crisis mode, and you working around the clock.

07:35 You know, you just isn't that kind of thing is just so powerful. So I think the people who created teen Zoom, as much as everybody makes fun of it. I'm also struggling like you are at the the power of the personal relationships that were that were for. Yes, even though we didn't even know each other really but we know each other really well actually now it we just hadn't seen each other in person. And if you remember those first couple of things we went to where people there and it's like I know you but I'd really am not a hundred percent sure who you are by Jackson Browne on sale, and I haven't been in the same room, but maybe, three or four times in two years, but yet, I mean, literally people come with Pandora and her eyes were so close that closely together. So it's exactly right. It's been that piece of it has been remarkable and I agree with you the the the nature and being able just taking for granted, just being able to sit outside and enjoy.

08:35 Weather in and the meaning of the refreshing refreshment that comes from that. I'm, I agree 100%. So what moment stick out for you? About the peak pandemic and a moment's? Keep pandemic. It made. It may be the exact same memory that you have, but we we had a, we had a time there in Fall of 2020 when we had so many positive people that it was just overwhelming and we could not keep up. We were literally working round-the-clock 24 hours a day. We were

09:15 Very nervous. We were very scared. We didn't really understand what was happening, or are you know what, the future might hold. And, and

09:26 I, it was the team that you never really took us through at that time because we relied on each other. And, like I said, when when somebody was getting really overwhelmed, we could say step away. Everybody else has got this for a minute and then you'll relieve somebody else and we'll swap out, but it was just so I've had a very stressful life and that that time. Was hands down, both personally and professionally that we were being. We were handling so much professionally, but also trying to juggle so much personally and keep your family safe and keep our loved ones. Safe, while, also trying to keep 22,000 people at Vanderbilt safe at the same time. And I just, I remember us. I remember working with tears streaming down my face, but God, she better believe, we kept working. We do, you know, and we just will you call each other and the odd virtual happy hour. Hello. And that has lots of laughs.

10:26 Making each other laugh with so important to get us through those times. And then really what has learned and I took away from that was facing the fear and doing it. Anyway, you know, being a researcher and being a person who wants all the info about all the things all the time before I make a decision, making decisions in that moment in that fear. And with like you said, such a little information and was so difficult for me and uncomfortable personally, but was so important and a lesson learned at 62 years old to learn to face that fear and do it. Anyway, just keep doing it without Perfection but doing the best you can without protection and just make the next right decision and keep walking the path, you know, holding tight to her values and that's what we did. I agree completely. What do you think's been the biggest obstacle either for you or for us as a team?

11:20 For me, personally, the biggest obstacle definitely has been how uncomfortable I have been with the lack of information and the lack of data and the lack of sun, you know, not the like a prince now but back in the early day and it again having to make those decisions. When we just we didn't know either. We really just didn't know what was happening, but I felt like we had such a good time and place that really just always went back to core values and always went back to what are we trying to do? What's the next best decision we can make? And then we'll figure it out, you know, from there, but that, that is been very challenging but a very good lesson for me. Personally. I think also the Obstacle of trying to balance the personal with the professional in, in both in crisis mode. The whole time. I had a college-age daughter. His freshman year was

12:20 Corrupted, and she had to come home. And she was devastated by that and depressed than a husband who's a high school physics teacher, that was struggling so much and then a child, in China was struggling. And I know everybody was in that same situation of trying to balance, you know, so we know some of the, some of the things I felt like we did were really smart in that we invited that in in our staff meetings. Like, I would always tell people brings your kids into the zoom. Bring your pets into the zoom, like don't feel like you have to hide who you are and that, I felt like that really helped us keep going and, and, reduced fat b. I e. I, I agree with you. It was an in some ways. We got to know things about each other that we would never have known in a normal work situation. Right? I mean, I know you and I have talked a lot about the balance of with our spouses and trying to figure out how do we work as much as we did and and still, you know, be attentive to other parts of our Lives. We didn't always do that really well, but we got through it.

13:20 Exactly, exactly. Hey, so, you know.

13:36 I'm just, I wonder how did it. How do you pay? How do you see life being different going forward? As a result of covid-19? Like I'm so interested in the lessons, people are going to do, you know, I think, let me let me answer my nursing answer first, which is that I think the positive thing out of covid is that there's a different appreciation for health and wellness. Then we had, we took health and wellness for granted in many ways as a country, as employers as individuals. And I think that it's just given us a real focus on appreciating health and wellness and doing things differently about it. I think it also has has helped us all as you said earlier. Think about what's really important, and it's really special. Unfortunately. I think the negative consequences are this divide that has happened that has widened in. And, you know, I've talked a lot about this.

14:36 It's not scientific-based, which drives us crazy, but it's deeply held emotional beliefs that people have and that one. I'm not so sure how we fix. Honestly. I'm going forward. I'm hoping it settles down. I'm hoping, you know, we can find better ways to communicate across differences of opinion and I hope we can learn to welcome. Welcome back, kind of, you know, I'll never welcome some of it as a nurse. But but, you know, we need to be able to be civil to one another. So I think that's interesting. So I do think that there's some changes that have happened but but on the good side again, it's made us all appreciate things and it's made us, you know, how gar family members more and and they can appreciate being being in a good spot. I really appreciate where we are right now. In terms of the case counting, those kind of things because we didn't know what was going to happen again, we and we still don't

15:34 So and I do think it'll, it'll make us more Vigilant and and hopefully, you know, some of the technology that's been developed to a blue facile enough. Should we Face other challenges in terms of, vaccines and stuff. So, I don't know. We'll see where we go with it. What do you miss most about life at Vanderbilt? Pre-pandemic carrier, LOL. Well, my old why are, you know, you know me. I'm a super social person and like the the social part of War can really seeing you seeing people was really important to me. So that was a bit of a kind of, you know, it adjustment but we're back at it now more. But it's still different. I mean, is that the positive thing in some ways of people working either in a hybrid mode or remote mode is it's really good for people's, you know, their own purse.

16:34 But you don't see people as much and you know, it is you pointed out. We've got good relationships over Zoom. But you said, so that's probably what I miss the most I miss the interface that I had frequently with students. Yes. Also, I do miss that cuz students just keep you. So on your toes and stimulated and we just do, we didn't have much to do but that's back since you're back. I'm sick of wearing masks, but we do it. Anyway. I miss not having to wear math, right? But, you know, in general life feels pretty normal again, I think and then again, we've just figured out ways to embrace those values and those things that are important to us despite covid, honestly.

17:19 Yeah, I agree. I do personally, miss the kind of incidental accidental. Yes, interactions. Did she get, you know in and in the office yet that we used to get in things like that. I feel like now you have to be much more purposeful to talk to people cuz you have to call him or you have to set up a zoom or right agree. But is there anything that you would like to forget about?

17:44 Any question, I think, you know what I'd like to forget. I don't know that I will, but are what I think about in terms of the real, the real significant, The Alchemist, and the lives lost, and all of my colleagues and friends, who are Healthcare, Providers and nurses, who were at the front line, Chief nursing officer. So, you know, that the toll that has taken on people. It's taking a toll on everybody, but it's particularly taken a toll on teachers and, and, you know, it and nurses and Physicians respiratory therapist, pharmacist community health centers, you know, in the end in just the people who've lost their family members and it that the terrible place I would like to forget, but I don't think any of us will

18:35 But again, you have to draw comfort from that, in some way to say, it helps me understand what's really important and it helps me appreciate the people around me who are healthy and well and doing well, so but that's probably, you know, there's nothing that was so traumatic about it to to have to forget it. But in terms of what we did, you know, if we worked hard and but anyway, it was kind of a labor of love, but that, that's the piece that I hope we can minimize going forward cuz it really was tragic. Absolutely. I mean, to you, from your, from your nursing background as a nurse. Do you feel like we will in the future? See unintended mental health effect. Oh, yeah, no question. They're already seen post-traumatic stress disorder. Very, very clearly in front-line providers. So yes, and I think we'll see turnover and, you know,

19:35 That's, that's unfortunate. Yeah, so everybody's it sounds like everybody's going to have to step up their game and supporting those kind of mental. Health effect. No question right now in the teaching Community, about the mental health effects in the learning effect. Absolutely in the, in the 18 and under population that they are suffering and the people really aren't recognizing and I think we're seeing that in her college-aged, we are as well. I'm very concerned about that most proud of during the pandemic, you know, I am just so proud of how we all came together as a university.

20:20 How we created a culture where we could discuss, debate make group decisions that it was not an autocratic approach. It was very much a collegial science, informed approach and I'm really proud of that. And I think it allowed us and I'm proud of the work that we specifically did to build the processes. It's kind of overwhelming. When you think about all of it. I mean, you know, the amount of data we manage the amount of interactions. We had the amount of times we interfaced with people who were upset and distressed and then we we calm them down. We gave him fax, we helped him cope. I'm really proud of that cuz I think we I think we made a difference and kind of at my age what it's all about is feeling like you make a difference and using your skills to make a difference and and this was a unique opportunity to do that.

21:20 What about you? What are you most proud of? Well, absolutely. As as you know, environmental health and safety director. I'm definitely most proud that we we made it through as a community, without losing anybody too on the way. And I think that's remarkable for the community that we have and the size and the breadth of agent and the breadth of people within our community. So I'm very very proud of that. As you said, I'm very proud that I really felt like we tried the best, we could to make sound decisions based in research and science at every turn, the best research in science could access. Even though sometimes it was still, you know, a moving Target. I really felt like that the whole group of leadership worked very hard to ground ourselves in

22:19 And that guidance in and that research and we definitely have some of the world-class research and we had access to, which I was so grateful for and like you said that we were able to to move through the pandemic and do this quality and quantity of work, but also be kind to each other and support each other. And you know, you and I talked about we brought together this group of people in the command center who did not know each other and came from all of these very backgrounds ever work together.

22:53 Never met each other, you know, some of us haven't met each other even even today, and we worked that hard and did all of that and under that stress without a negative word, for to each other without an argument, everybody. Really everybody just gave each other the benefit of the doubt and I think that's remarkable and really goes back to what you said. The country is so divisive right now that I think, if we could just move to a place of coming out of the gate and giving people the benefit of the doubt at first and assuming positivity, right? Side of assuming negativity, we would all get so much further because I just feel like we've operated that way through the whole pandemic and in our little world and it's been so powerful. I'm so proud of that. I am proud of the relationships that we forged for sure the results as you said, I remember you and I talking early on our goal is to just keep them alive.

23:53 And you know, we did that but not to make light of it before I even had a coffee cup that says keep the humans alive and we didn't know if we are going to be able to do that. I really didn't and so but but yeah it it's been it's been an experience of a lifetime. And again, I'm 62. And I've been in healthcare administration for a long time and I've never faced anything. I faced a lot of things, but I've never faced anything quite like this. So, it's been a pleasure, Andrea. And you've been a fantastic partner for absolutely call to the area where it was. It was fun to talk to you today about it. Yes. Absolutely. Thank you. This is been a wonderful conversation and I've really enjoyed it. So great.