Three years ago this March, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in America and changed everything about our day-to-day lives. Communities shut down, businesses floundered, classrooms went dark, lives were lost, and people everywhere struggled to adapt to our “new normal.”
Public Safety and Economic Growth (PubSEG) was founded to help organizations cope with those changing times. Valerie Schlitt, CEO of nationally recognized lead generation firm VSA Prospecting, knew her company had the technology, infrastructure, healthcare knowledge, and communications experience to effectively assist schools, businesses, and municipalities with their contact tracing efforts. She launched PubSEG as a separate division of VSA in the fall of 2020, committed to helping limit the spread of the virus and keeping people healthy.
It was impossible to know at the time how long PubSEG would last, how large the organization would become, or the level of service it would someday offer its clients. But it’s safe to say the organization’s growth has exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations.
“When I came on (in the summer of 2021), we had seven employees,” says PubSEG Senior VP of Operations Dawn Stolte. “By Jan. 1, I was hoping we would have 25. And then to have over 100 by then, it was crazy. From September 2021 to June 2022, our growth was 454%. I envisioned we’d get bigger, but did I ever envision this big? No.”
As the country enters a fourth year of dealing with COVID-19, here’s a look back at how much PubSEG has evolved, and how we plan to continue to help people moving forward.
The Early Days
PubSEG welcomed its first client, a multi-state university system, in the spring of 2021, and had brought on a few additional clients by the time Dawn moved over from VSA to become PubSEG’s Head of Operations that summer. There was already an established structure in place by then, thanks largely to the work of Valerie and former Head of Sales Kerry Dougherty, who held multiple roles in the organization during those nascent days. But there was still so much to learn about contact tracing best practices and overall disease case investigation.
Back then, a single phone call to a positive case or close contact could take as long as 45 minutes. Training consisted largely of sharing information down the line, with one person telling another person what to do, and then the process repeating itself as new people came onboard. And understanding the nuances of interacting with the public during contact tracing was still very much a work in progress.
“We were still figuring out certain situations, like how to handle people who were very upset when we called them,” says Caitlin Tucker-Melvin, who along with Harley Myers and Fabiola Botella was among the first contact tracers hired. (Today, all three are on PubSEG’s leadership team; Harley is Manager of Operations, Caitlin is Assistant Manager of Operations, and Fabiola is a supervisor for multiple programs.)
“We definitely got yelled at quite a few times from people who didn’t want to participate in the process,” Caitlin continues. “But even that informed how we approached certain things in training. We were definitely learning from each case about how to approach people, and the guidance stuff was becoming clearer.”
Even as PubSEG found its footing, there were new challenges to overcome. A large new client had its own cutting-edge contact tracing processes already in place, very different from what PubSEG was doing for other clients. For the first time, PubSEG would be working out of somebody else’s EHR.
“We made mistakes, and the client called us out on every single one of those mistakes, but we owned them,” Dawn says. “We knew we needed to regroup. Part of that regrouping was bringing Harley in to help fix things. We worked together long nights and long days to revamp our whole system.”
Throw in the rapidly rising number of cases during the omicron surge, and it was obvious that processes would have to change dramatically.
“We knew there was no way we could get to all these cases, all these calls. We needed to send people some forms, and that’s where E-intake started to be born,” Harley says. “We had to figure out: How do we keep all of the empathy and the concierge services and hit all of our marks, but also make this process so effective and efficient that we could reach massive number of people and also close contacts.”
More than a year later, the client remains with PubSEG and considers us a valuable part of their team. The lessons learned from that program have helped us develop customized approaches for others, including one large long-time client that was experiencing more than 300 cases a day at one point.
“In this case, there were definitely structures and processes that had to be put in place that were not relevant to other clients,” Fabiola says. “They were literally seeing 150 to 300 cases a day. We definitely had to come in with a different approach, structure, work ethic, and mentality, and everybody had to be on the same page across the board to carry that weight.”
Despite working in an entirely virtual environment from the outset, PubSEG has established an incredibly close-knit workforce. Through a commitment to our core values, continuous team-building activities and virtual events, and an emphasis on promoting from within, PubSEG has made it a priority to ensure employees always feel supported and appreciated. Happier, more satisfied employees make for happier, more satisfied clients.
“The work environment is so open and welcoming,” says Project Manager Lisa Dougherty. “The core values aren’t just something to hang on the wall—everybody lives by them and up to them. The camaraderie here has always been so strong, even working remotely. It really helped make you feel like you were part of a bigger team; it never felt like you were working from your den at home.”
PubSEG Connect … and the Future
Late last year, PubSEG launched our PubSEG Connect platform, a first-of-its kind, fully customizable software designed to help organizations streamline their contact tracing and disease case investigation needs. The platform was developed based on the specific needs of the clients we’ve worked with over the past few years.
“We had to make sure it included everything that every client we’ve worked with has needed us to do,” says Lisa, who worked tirelessly alongside our developer to help implement the platform.
The software ensures PubSEG can continue to provide its clients with high-level service, even as many organizations pare down their contact tracing programs. Data capture for incidents and accidents, long-term record storage, secure messaging, customizable reports and alerts, and interactive visual mapping are just some of PubSEG Connect’s many uses.
“I fully expect us to continue to reinvent ourselves to meet the needs of our clients,” Dawn says. “We are going to do what Valerie has taught us to do: Forge new roads and figure it out. We’re a work in progress. We’re going to adapt, we’re going to remain flexible, and we’re going to use this software to continue to do great things.”