Nov 9, 2020
Virtual volunteers: How community service has been reimagined in the age of COVID-19

I generally have a very positive mindset, but the challenges of 2020 have left me feeling less “upbeat” than usual. So, I began searching for ways to meaningfully contribute to the world around me.

My husband and I work full-time, while parenting three children, which means I rarely have time to pursue meaningful, long-term community service roles. I learned that BD was inviting its employees to apply for virtual volunteer service opportunities – meaning in my busy life, I could volunteer from home – and I instantly knew it was something I wanted to pursue.

A challenge with a gameshow twist

I was chosen as one of ten BD volunteers from around the world to participate in a 6-week virtual volunteer opportunity called, “Reimagining Community Health Systems Challenge,” facilitated by Pyxera Global.

We were joined by dozens of volunteers from other companies, then divided into competitive teams that would work together (remotely), to create a plan for leveraging telehealth technology to expand access to healthcare among vulnerable populations in the United States.

We spent weeks researching the needs of community health centers and their patients in the Midwest. Once we had a business plan, we would “pitch” it to a panel of judges – much like the popular television program, Shark Tank – who would evaluate each plan on six criteria before selecting the winning proposal to invest in:

  • innovation
  • social impact
  • sustainability
  • desirability
  • feasibility
  • viability

The winning team’s recommendations would be piloted in Iowa, and potentially rolled out across the U.S., with the goal of serving the 30 million uninsured and underinsured patients who receive their healthcare services from community health centers.

Rising to the occasion, virtually

To be honest, kicking off this volunteer challenge was, well, challenging. My team was comprised of employees from BD, Medtronic and SAP, and we all rose to the occasion, embracing this project with passion and a sense of urgency. Although I’m far more comfortable developing team rapport through in-person meetings, I was surprised at how, when given a common, powerful goal, we were all able to leave our comfort zones and quickly gel as a team that effectively worked together.

Our keys to success in a virtual, pandemic world were regular check-ins and clear role delineations.

Perseverance pays off

Our team’s business plan sought to help the National Association of Community Health Centers elevate its role in expanding telehealth access by:

  • leveraging population health management analytics;
  • establishing national standards of care and best practices for its members;
  • and uniting those members’ voices to advocate for legislation that would make it easier to treat patients through telehealth technologies.

On the day of our virtual pitch, we were ready. We practiced a dozen times and even though we faced a technical difficulty that meant last minute shifts in our presentation, we were shocked and thrilled to learn that our proposal was named winner of the challenge. I can’t express the elation that comes from knowing our hard work and ideas are going to impact patients in-need for (potentially) decades to come.

With this experience, I’m fortunate to say that I am a more informed member of my community, and a better employee, for having participated.

In our day-to-day work at BD, we know that versatility, collaboration, teamwork and out-of-the-box thinking are all keys to innovation. It was fulfilling to find that this opportunity leveraged all those strengths at once, allowing us to create an innovative solution to a very real healthcare challenge that prevents millions of patients from accessing quality healthcare they deserve.

I feel lucky to work for a company that makes it a priority to make virtual volunteer service opportunities available to its employees in a time when we need it most. And I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to remind myself that even in 2020, when so many of us are unable to physically be together, with a little ingenuity, adaptability and a whole lot of hard work, we can still find ways to bring our hearts and minds together to meet the needs of patients and communities most in need.


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