Leslie Horton, Director of Yavapai County Community Health Services, Lauds Exceptional Teamwork During the COVID-19 Emergency

By Hilary Dartt

While most residents of Yavapai County spent the months of March and April staying home, contending with more free time than they’d had in as long as they could remember, Leslie Horton was working 16-hour days. While many local parents were with their kids 24/7 during this same time, Leslie saw hers for about an hour each day, at dinnertime.

Leslie is the Director of Yavapai County Community Health Services. Typically, this means she heads up the government organization dedicated to keeping the residents of this county healthy.

When the COVID-19 outbreak hit Arizona, that job became much bigger—and much more urgent. Leslie became the incident commander of a team of trained experts and volunteers dedicated to minimizing the impact of the novel coronavirus on the county’s 235,000 residents.

Fortunately, Leslie said during a recent interview, the people tasked with accommodating the needs and demands of the community have done a fantastic job.

That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a wild ride.

Over spring break (the second week of March), Leslie and her family went to Jamaica to enjoy a week on the beach.

“We’d seen the first case in Phoenix by that time,” Leslie said. “We decided to go ahead and take this vacation, and I’m very thankful that we did. Mid-week, my phone started going wild and I began receiving a lot of funny but strange memes about toilet paper.”

The Horton family returned to Prescott on March 12, and, Leslie said, “I dove back in.”

First, County leadership and the Emergency Manager, Ron Sauntman, got the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) up and running, just before Yavapai County announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

“We needed to deploy the EOC in a more extensive way than it’s ever been deployed before,” she said (it has been used for other emergencies, including wildland fires, but never for a worldwide health emergency).

Meanwhile, a Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC)—a team of trained individuals, led by a Type 1 Incident Management Team, as well as leaders from different agencies including fire departments, law enforcement agencies, health organizations, education, and more—assembled.

“At the beginning,” Leslie said, “we had the EOC on standby and we started pushing through a variety of answers to questions and filling supply requests.”

Soon, though, members of the EOC team stepped up to help with planning, finance, operations and logistics, like ensuring front-line workers (those in healthcare and first responders) received the Personal Protective Equipment and cleaning supplies they needed. They set up a hotline and phone bank so people could call and ask questions of staff members and volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps, and County Emergency Response Team volunteers helped in the EOC.

Leslie was then able to focus on the over-arching recommendations based on the science and studies around what health officials are seeing with COVID-19 worldwide.

The teamwork, Leslie said, has been “incredible.”

“I’m so thankful that right away, we pulled in all the partner agencies we could think of,” Leslie said. “The [County] Board of Supervisors has been extremely supportive—they’ve made sure we have everything we need.” (She said they did this by declaring an emergency early on, giving the county access to additional resources.)

Everyone involved, she said, has “been willing to drop everything they were doing before, and be at this table.” In addition, “Everyone’s been so great to work with—so gracious and kind and patient as we weave through new and different issues that have come our way.”

Members of the public have also played a significant role in responding to this emergency.

“People are pouring in support,” Leslie said.

Most people have followed recommendations to practice physical and social distancing, wear masks, and have continued to find ways to support local businesses (such as buying takeout meals and drinks from their favorite restaurants).

“This is a huge operation we’re running here,” Leslie said. “But it’s going quite smoothly. I’m so proud of everyone’s contributions.”

She added, “I’m really enjoying working with all the people in the EOC and all the community partners. It’s been a very positive experience in that way. The hospitals have truly stepped up to the needs. Everybody has been incredibly supportive. So, even with all the demands, it’s hard work, but I feel like everyone can appreciate what’s been getting done.”

And, some positives emerged during what many people are referring to as a crisis: people are getting out on trails. Families are spending more time together. People are watching out for each other.

For example, Leslie said, “I had a sweet thing happen with my neighbors. Several women in my neighborhood fall into the high-risk categories because they are senior citizens. I checked in on them to see how they’re doing, and they started cooking me dinners, knowing how busy I was.”

We all need a purpose, Leslie said, and contributing to others can give us one, and ease our anxiety—not just during times of crisis, but all the time.

Although Leslie is a busy mom of two and didn’t have much free time before the COVID-19 virus hit Yavapai County, she is looking forward to being able to enjoy her favorite outdoor activities again soon.

“One thing I do for myself,” she said of her long days in the Emergency Operations Center, “is that I go for a run or a hike and try to get outside to get some fresh air. It helps balance me mentally. I do go back to work in the evenings after dinner.”

Still, she said of the time when crisis mode winds down: “Someday I’ll take my own long-term quarantine.”

How to Help the EOC

The Yavapai County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is always accepting donations of money and Personal Protective Equipment including N95 masks, standard surgical masks, disposable gloves and gowns, surgical goggles and other eye protection, shoe covers, Tyvek suits, thermometer sleeves, hand sanitizer, alcohol swabs, bleach, and sanitizer wipes. The EOC distributes these items to first responders and frontline healthcare management countywide.

Note: the EOC can accept only unopened boxes of any type of equipment, and cannot accept hand-sewn masks, home-made equipment, or opened boxes of supplies. EOC personnel recommend that if you have a single box or a small amount of a certain item, keep it to better protect yourself and those close to you.

Make donations at Yavapai County Development Services at 1120 Commerce Dr. in Prescott between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Call the EOC regarding donations at 928.771.3321.