In these times of pandemic and protests, we need truth and understanding as well as communication and transparency. But it seems the more communication platforms we possess, the more tools we have at our disposal, the more elusive truth and understanding become.

Despite these most difficult times, the city has given birth to a new generation of community leaders. And like the Roman patrician Cincinnati is named after, these leaders have stepped out from behind the daily plow to achieve victories on all fronts while displaying civic virtue, humility and modesty—at a time when most folks are more concerned with themselves than the greater good.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” the Good Book tells us. If that is true, Cincinnati has had a bumper crop at a time when the entire nation is reeling. So stand up and take a bow, Cincinnati, you have given birth to a whole new generation of leaders whose actions speak much louder than words.

Facing Down a Pandemic

Not too surprisingly, community leadership during these times starts with the medical community. Its ties to academia have placed the entire region ahead of other major metropolitan areas in the state. Indeed, the individual hospitals, health care organizations and health care systems in the Greater Cincinnati region have taken a lead when it comes to developing programs, protocols and initiatives that will combat the coronavirus not only here, but across the nation and around the world.

For its part, UC Health, the University of Cincinnati’s affiliated health care system, is currently involved with more 28 different trials and initiatives involved with combating the novel coronavirus. But it’s also played a key role in bringing the entire region together.

“Early on, we were really just trying to understand the level of how contagious this was and how far and quickly this would spread,” says Dr. Richard P. Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health. “By February, we realized that this was a contagion that fulfilled all the concerns of a pandemic: meaning that it is new, everybody is susceptible and there are a large number of people that don’t get sick at all from it—which makes it easier to spread because you have a large number of people who are infected that are just not that sick.”

However, there are a large number of people who can get very sick from the virus, says Lofgren.

“We saw that emerge and kick into gear late February, so our COVID-19 team went into full operation on March 3,” he adds.

But it wasn’t just about what UC Health was doing, he stresses.

“It was really about the whole health care community coming together and saying, ‘Listen, if there is an onslaught of patients, what are we going to do? How do we prepare so we can meet the needs of all patients in our area?’”

As an academic health care system with a lot of preparedness, UC Health activated plans it already had in place.

“We didn’t reinvent them, we activated them,” says Lofgren. “We had huddles in a tiered discipline process to communicate, develop and understand our practices in identifying the cascade, of how we would create capacity both in terms of physical capacity as well as people capacity to manage any kind of onslaught.”

The other thing that is unique to Cincinnati is the tradition of health care systems collaborating when it comes to important issues such as sharing information, says Lofgren, who adds that he was impressed in the way the separate health care systems developed their own internal surge plans, “but then we got together and said, ‘We are no longer competitors, we are collaborators,’” Lofgren says. “It galvanized around three basic principles: First, that we would keep our workforce safe at all times; second, that everybody in the Greater Cincinnati area would have access to high quality care; and third, that we would function with transparency in terms of data, learning and resourcing.”

So if one hospital looked like it would be overwhelmed, the collaborating health systems would be able to activate another hospital that had capacity.

“So in relatively short order, we identified all the resources we had in the Greater Cincinnati area to prepare for the pandemic, and we were functioning in a very collaborative way,” he adds.

Lofgren who also serves on the governor’s pandemic advisory board, also credits Governor Mike DeWine for helping the community and the whole state of Ohio stay ahead of the curve.

“Governor DeWine took some obviously unpopular actions, but they were actions that were very effective in dampening the potential onslaught of the virus,” says Lofgren. “But I also think our community really responded. That really put us ahead of the curve.”

Business Leaders Rise Up

On top of the medical response by the community, business leaders across the Tristate area have also risen to the occasion and are actively formulating plans to help reignite the regional economy.

“The work of all the CEOs of our region has been equally impressive,” says Lofgren. “One of the lessons we learned is that we might not be able to totally eradicate the virus right now, so we have to learn to live with it safely. And that is where the work of the RESTART Group out of the chamber and REDI Cincinnati has been so important.”

Major corporations in the Tristate like Kroger and P&G have taken strides in their workplaces to make sure their workforce and customers are safe: disinfecting workstations, washing hands, ensuring social distancing and stressing the importance of wearing masks. Many corporations are also realizing and rewarding the efforts of frontline workers.

Kroger extended its “thank you” pay to frontline workers through mid-June. The grocer estimates the additional bonus to be approximately $130 million to its workers.

“Our associates have been instrumental in feeding America while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic,” said Rodney McMullen, CEO of the grocer, in a prepared statement. “To recognize and thank our associates for their incredible work during this historic time, we offered special pay in March, April and May.”

And now June. During all this, the company also announced a plan called Zero Waste/Zero Hunger, a program designed to end hunger in the communities it serves and eliminate waste across the company by 2025.

While such individual corporate initiatives are commendable, it’s really the partnership among government, business and nonprofits that will keep the virus in check and open the regional economy back up.

Started in March, the RESTART Task Force is working to rebuild the region’s economy. It’s a partnership among the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, the Cincinnati Business Committee, Cincinnati Regional Business Committee and REDI Cincinnati.

The task force includes more than two dozen business and community leaders. Its goal is to make sure the region recovers economically and regains the momentum it had before the coronavirus outbreak.

“Public-private partnerships are crucial when tackling challenges that can’t be solved by one organization,” says Kimm Lauterbach, president and CEO of REDI Cincinnati. “The pandemic stands out as a prime example of a challenge that requires a shared effort. Different partners offer different resources and expertise, which is much more effective as a whole.

“What makes the Cincinnati region special is that our business and community leaders have a history of working together. Public and private organizations quickly came together to form the RESTART Task Force in response to the pandemic.”

REDI Cincinnati has a role on four of the RESTART Task Force’s subcommittees, as well as a continued focus on and commitment to its core work of attracting new companies and helping local companies expand and grow. REDI Cincinnati is continuing its five-year mission that includes attracting new investment from outside the region, which in turn will help the region overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19.

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber is also playing a key role in the region’s recovery, working through the RESTART Task Force with business partners, including P&G, CVG and Brain Brew to name but a few, to provide free kits that include masks, sanitizers and disinfectants to help local businesses restart businesses responsibly. The chamber has also shifted its programming to focus on issues related to business continuity, finances and restart issues.

“In short, we will do everything we can to be the most comprehensive and reliable source for businesses to gain the information, connections and other resources they will need to restart their economics,” says Jill P. Meyer, president and CEO of the chamber. “Similarly, we will continue to convene the RESTART Task Force and various workstreams that flow from it to move our local economy forward in both the short and long term.

“Partnerships like RESTART define the Cincinnati region,” adds Meyer. “Numerous past examples evidence, like this one, that when big community challenges need to be solved, business, community and government leaders run toward the problems and dig in together to solve them. That’s the mentality that built our community and has given us the strong base we have today.”

According to Meyer, the current economic challenge is no different. For the Cincinnati region to emerge strongly from this crisis, restarted and rebuilt, it will also need to be reimagined because of the diversity of thoughts, opinions, skillsets and resources.

“The momentum that our community had leading into this crisis provides us a path to more quickly spring back—but only if we have all core parts rowing together,” says Meyer. “We’re living through the most recent example of the innate interconnectedness of government and business and people. Each part has been majorly impacted and each part has a critical role to play in leading us through it. It’s our opportunity to strengthen bonds, reconnect with the core of what makes this whole community tick, and reimagine how we can drive even stronger economics moving forward.

“That requires partnership of every kind and, given the diversity of our business landscape, we luckily can build on many opportunities… but it takes all viewpoints and angles and resources to bring a wide array of economics to fruition.”

Lest We Forget

While we celebrate on these pages the health care organizations and private/public partnerships that have made a difference, we must not forget the thousands of health care professionals and frontline workers across the region who also stepped up. That includes everyone from doctors and nurses through maintenance and sanitation personnel to cafeteria and food service workers. Not to mention the thousands of grocery store workers, truckers and farmers in the food supply chain who all played an essential role in keeping the community running during the shutdown. Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t include all the first responders, EMTs, firemen and police. Each day these brave warriors risked their lives, facing possible infection from an unseen enemy. Each played a significant, yet often unheralded, role in helping the community flatten the coronavirus curve. Their contributions, made on a daily basis, are often overlooked, but should never be forgotten.