by Megan Bermea :
The COVID-19 pandemic brought forth a The mission and values of a public servant become crystal clear amid a public health emergency. The mundane tasks of bureaucracy suddenly transform into life-and-death projects and decisions that require competent and compassionate leadership. Not only was I in my last semester of the MPA program at Texas State University when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, I also held a full-time management position at Texas Health and Human Services (HHS) working on the front lines of the public health emergency.
HHS swiftly mobilized to help Texans statewide as public health threats impact both clients and providers. We are responsible for implementing strategies to mitigate healthcare personnel staffing shortages; disseminating infection control basics, information for hospitals and healthcare professionals, and provider information communication; curating reliable and evidence-based public health resources; and focusing on the priority areas of primary and behavioral health services, Medicaid and CHIP services, and regulatory services.
In addition to responding directly to the COVID-19 pandemic, HHS must also evaluate and respond to the indirect impacts on the state budget due to the economic hardship related to the pandemic. HHS is carefully and strategically balancing the increase in public health and healthcare demand with significantly reduced available resources. It is a complex, challenging, and rapidly-evolving situation that requires agility, dedication, and skilled leadership.
Our programs have experienced significant increased demand due to the COVID-19 virus, as well as economic hardships and a sharp rise in unemployment. We are responsible for implementing federal and state policy waivers to allow many of our programs to utilize telehealth and telemedicine services and other flexibilities to continue to serve their clients, many of whom are the most vulnerable among us. We are also responsible for administering federal grant funding from the CARES Act to increase budgets in many health and social services programs due to the surge in demand.
We have had to amend contracts, write new administrative rules, adjust budgets and funding sources, apply for grants, push out COVID communications, host COVID webinars, and still maintain regular daily operations and oversight of programs and services. Without the skills, knowledge, and applied experience of my MPA education, I would have been lost in a sea of despair and panic amidst this global pandemic. Every class such as public policy, administrative law, fiscal administration, public management, ethics, and information technology helped to inform my understanding of the role of a state agency in a pandemic, but collectively this program instilled in me the confidence needed to meet these challenges head-on, lead with empathy and agility, and focus on the true meaning of public service.
It was exceptionally challenging to attempt to balance the professional workload that resulted from the pandemic with MPA school work and home schooling two children. Not to mention, I contracted the virus and was down for the count for over three weeks. COVID-19 impacted my life in tremendous ways, yet I am stronger because of it.
About the author:
Megan Bermea currently serves as the senior advisor for women’s health and family services programs at Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) in Austin, Texas. Prior to HHSC, Ms. Bermea worked as a curriculum policy specialist and rules coordinator in the Office of Academics at the Texas Education Agency.
She was a contributing writer to the 17th edition of Practicing Texas Politics and worked as director of volunteer operations for the literacy nonprofit organization, Education Connection.
Ms. Bermea is a summa cum laude graduate of The University of Texas at El Paso with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and is a Merrick Graduate Fellowship recipient at The Graduate College of Texas State University. She graduated with a master’s degree in public administration in Summer 2020.