(Or everything I needed to know about public health I learned in U8 Soccer)

by Bryan Campbell, CMS CEO

We are living in strange times.

The last three months have been quite interesting for me, transitioning into the role of the CEO of the Colorado Medical Society. I drove into town just days before the start of the legislative session, jumped right into working with the CMS team, helped to honor a legend as we celebrated the retirement of my predecessor, Alfred Gilchrist…and then, of course, COVID-19 changed everything.

Right about now is the time when a new CEO would start sharing personal information about himself or herself to help the membership get a better understanding of who he is. To get to know me, you need to know about my passion for sports. And right now, that passion is struggling to stay fed with only replays of old sporting events on ESPN. So, I’m going to feed my passion by telling a sports story that I think bears relevance today.

When my daughter Lauren was six, we wanted to get her involved with youth sports. One of our good friends was a soccer coach and invited Lauren to be on his team. I’ve played football, basketball and baseball. I am passionate about all three plus hockey, golf, and even tennis when we get around the major Opens. That said, I just never got into soccer. So, while I was excited that Lauren was going to have the opportunity to play for a respected coach and learn team dynamics and get a lot of good exercise, I wasn’t bullish on watching soccer three times a week.

I listened to Coach Eli as he worked with a bunch of six-year-olds, many of whom had never played soccer. A phrase that I quickly learned was “ant-ball.” If you aren’t familiar with this phenomenon, it’s when everyone on the field swarms (like ants) to where the ball is. You see this in youth sports of all ages but it is especially prevalent in soccer.

“Stay in your lane! Stay in your lane!” I can hear Coach Eli yelling that today, more than 15 years later. He ran drill after drill focused on getting the girls to ignore their instinct and stay in their lane. It’s hard to get six-year-olds to focus. Like all youth sports teams, we had the flower pickers, the goalie who would sit down, and the bull-in-the-china-shop aggressive who went full speed into everything. The first few games were what you’d expect … lots of rugby-style scrums on the sidelines and very little scoring.

The first time it happened, it was like magic. The ball careening towards the sideline, the other team and half of our team sprinted towards the ball. “Stay in your lane! STAY IN YOUR LANE!” Coach Eli might have been just as well served to put a prerecorded message out there. It was his only message, and this moment would define why.

As half of the girls peeled back and stayed relatively close to their assigned positions, the ball popped free and into the waiting path of one of ours who’d stayed in her lane. Now with the entire other team in pursuit, she advanced the ball down the pitch to where she made one more great pass to another girl in her lane. Easy pass, easy shot. GOOOOOAAAAALLL!

By the middle of the season, Coach Eli’s team was winning games by 20 or more goals. He swapped in every girl in multiple positions. Our leading goal scorer, Kennedy, was so good that he’d end up putting her at goalie for the entire second half so she didn’t score 20 herself. Other teams complained. They said the team was stacked. They actually changed the rules of the league to break up Coach Eli’s team the next season.

It wasn’t that Coach Eli had recruited the most elite six-year-old athletes in northeast Florida (think about the absurdity of that statement anyway), it was that he taught them that working together as a team and by staying in their lanes, everyone could contribute to big wins in meaningful ways. No, not everyone was scoring multiple goals a game, but the wins would not have been possible without the girls on defense staying in position, and the wings keeping their sides on lockdown.

This lesson has served me well throughout my career. In a situation like we are facing right now with COVID-19 and the dramatic impact it’s having on every person in the nation, you can see a lot of ant-ball. I got an email from Sperry, the shoe company, telling me how they are committed to safety in this tumultuous time. That’s not what I need from you right now, Sperry!

I think we’ve all experienced some ant-ball in the health care community around the crisis. As everyone struggles to identify the new normal, you can see a lot of duplication of efforts, which results in a cacophony in one area, and blind spots in another.

At the Colorado Medical Society, our “lane” is helping the physicians of Colorado practice medicine so that they can keep Colorado healthy. To that extent, we’ve focused on the efforts to assist your practice. Our town hall meetings and virtual grand rounds are designed to provide updates and hear your concerns so our talented staff can help to provide answers. We’ve worked with our partners in state specialty and county medical societies to encourage better communication about PPE resources, access to testing for physicians, and reimbursement and education around telehealth. We worked to connect your practice with funds available through the CARES Act and to connect you a bulk PPE order, so that you could continue to provide the care that Coloradans truly need.

We continue to work closely with state agencies like HCPF, CDPHE, CPHP and others who truly have expertise in their specific areas. We provide feedback when necessary but allow them to do what they do best as well.

Here’s a great example of the power of staying in your lane. One of the most prevalent pieces of feedback that we have experienced at this time is that physicians are feeling burned out. The entire process of going to work when others aren’t, wearing PPE for simple procedures – or, worse, sometimes not having access to needed PPE – all of these contribute to a higher-than-normal level of physician burnout. And that’s saying a lot because physicians already have one of the highest stress and burnout rates of any profession. When we heard this, there was an immediate consideration to create our own resource to provide to physicians. Physician wellness is one of my personal missions, and in my previous role I was part of a group that created the award-winning LifeBridge physician wellness program.

However, I was aware of the Colorado CPHP program with a system already in place to provide free and confidential counseling to physicians. I did know that it was not being highly utilized but did not know why.

After ignoring the initial instinct to run to the ball, CMS stayed in our lane and used our membership as a resource to work with CPHP. We found clarity on some ways to help CPHP improve their service to physicians. Additionally, we are now helping CPHP to spread the word about their new and improved service (Care Line: call 720-810-9131 for immediate counseling) so that we can make sure as many physicians as possible know about the resource and take advantage.

Yes, I miss my sports, but I’m lucky to be working with an amazing team of staff and physicians at the Colorado Medical Society. We continue to search for new and innovative ways through which we can provide the resources you need to keep your practice running as efficiently as possible. Keep those great ideas coming. Some of them will be just like a great crossing pass that we can swing on and score a goal right away. Others will be outside of our lane. That’s OK. If we focus on our members and work with others to guide and enhance what they’re doing, we’ll be positioned to make that winning shot.

And all the time I’ll be hearing Coach Eli in my head.

Categories: Communications, Colorado Medicine, Resources, COVID