Leading During Crisis: Q&A with County Commissioner Wheeler and WellSpan Health’s Dr. Gapstur

by | Apr 21, 2020 | News, Uncategorized

2020 has brought unprecedented times to our community, our country, and the world. In times of great crisis, we also witness great leadership, great giving, and great generosity. When two phenomenal leaders took the reigns in York County, they had no way of knowing the extent of leadership that would be needed so soon.


We asked President Commissioner Julie Wheeler and Roxanna Gapstur, Ph.D., R.N., President and CEO of WellSpan Health, for their thoughts on leading in a time of crisis, especially one with health and economic impact.


Both local leaders. Both female leaders. Both started 2020 with a different perspective – Commissioner Wheeler stepped into her role January 2020, after a successful election, and Dr. Gapstur celebrated one year at WellSpan Health after joining the team in January 2019.



On Leadership

Commissioner Wheeler, how do you feel leading the community in the most unprecedented of times?

Humbled. Grateful. Challenged. Talk about a humbling experience. This is not the challenge I anticipated, but I am grateful that my life experiences in business and community service helped prepare me. And, I’ve never been one to shy away from tough situations. I am grateful for the team of professionals that I am surrounded by, and those on the front lines of our community. There are constant lessons to be learned as we manage these difficult times. Our character is tested when we are up against adversity. Leadership has many facets to it, so too does this crisis.

What has been the greatest challenge in this time of crisis for you as a leader, as a government official, and as a citizen?

The decisions made will never be universally popular. The speed in which this has evolved is unprecedented. There is literally no playbook to combat these challenges. And each day, in many cases each hour, brings an evolution of new challenges and decisions to make. Our county leaders are adapting quickly as the daily circumstances change. Among the greatest daily challenges is making the best decisions given the information we know at the time. God challenges us in many unique ways, many are impossible to anticipate. My faith has been a beacon of light for me.


Dr. Gapstur, what’s on your mind as a leader right now?

The safety and wellbeing of our 20,000 WellSpan team members, especially those who are working on the front lines, is constantly top of mind. It’s evident by the outpouring of generosity from our community that many are holding our teams in their thoughts as we move forward. Each individual team member at WellSpan is giving in their own way to ensure our community is provided with the safest, highest-quality care – and it’s absolutely essential we do everything we can to support the safety and wellbeing of WellSpan caregivers and support teams throughout this journey.

It’s also imperative we continue to learn from different parts of our system in order to improve care and processes which make a difference in the outcomes for our community. WellSpan serves five separate counties and many communities. Our system-wide approach to this public health crisis has driven our ability to take swift and decisive action from the onset of COVID-19 – and has allowed us to implement a single integrated response, leveraging our 1600 physicians and advanced practice clinicians, eight hospitals and more than 200 ambulatory care locations.

And finally, maintaining open communication with our elected officials and business and community leaders is critically important to our response as a southcentral Pennsylvania community. The incredible support from our partners is making all the difference – and it will be important for us to sustain that engagement going forward.


On Positivity

There are a multitude of challenges in our current COVID-19 climate.
Commissioner Wheeler, of the positive things York County has been able to accomplish, which brings you the most pride?

I love that we rise to the challenge together to help our friends and neighbors. Whether it’s a neighbor who started a free food pantry, our local sourcing initiative turning the muscle of our private sector toward the production of personal protective equipment for those on the front lines, or our government employees, who remain collected and compassionate through this all. There are so many who simply step up and wish to help. There are a multitude of challenges, and there are a multitude of incredibly talented people and organizations answering the call to meet these challenges directly.


Dr. Gapstur, and on the WellSpan side of accomplishments, which brings you the most pride?

I’m most proud of our ability to demonstrate continued commitment in delivering the safest, highest-quality care when our friends and neighbors need it most. WellSpan was one of the first in the nation to commit to covering all out-of-pocket costs for anyone needing COVID-19 screening, testing or treatment. This goes beyond the mandated legislation of free testing to relieve the potential financial burden of any needed treatments related to COVID-19 for our friends and neighbors. I’m also incredibly proud of our team’s innovation in response to COVID-19, including work by our “MacGyver team” – a small army of our own experts with manufacturing and engineering backgrounds. They are collaborating with local businesses to develop creative solutions for materials and supplies.

And Dr. Gapstur, you relocated to York to join WellSpan Health. How would you describe what you are seeing from our York community?

We have such strong connections to the communities we serve. From the beginning of the York community’s response to COVID-19, I’ve seen these community connections play out in really generous ways. So many individuals, local manufacturers and businesses have approached us asking how they can help. They’ve provided coffee and food for our staff, hand-sewn masks for our frontline caregivers, and donated medical supplies. It is inspiring to see the ingenuity of this community with so many doing everything in their power to pitch in. It’s humbling and our entire team is grateful for the support.


On Community & Communications

Commissioner Wheeler, what is the most important thing to say to the community right now?

While there is much uncertainty and anxiety about what lies ahead, we will get through this together. And, we will be stronger as a community. We have terrific leaders who care deeply about the health and well-being of our community. They are working day and night to solve the challenges that face us. They are committed, compassionate, and relentless in their pursuit to best position York to weather this storm. I’m truly humbled to be working alongside them. They inspire me. As a nation, a state, and a county, we have been tested before. We will again. York rises to those challenges and collectively, we help each other through it.


And Dr. Gapstur, what is the most important thing for our friends and neighbors to know right now?

I want everyone to know how much the caregivers, support teams and leaders at WellSpan care about our communities in southcentral Pennsylvania. At times, a health system as large as WellSpan can seem impersonal or uncaring. But our organization is made up of individual people who have a passion for caring about others, and who are willing to share that passion to improve the health of our friends and neighbors, even at great risk to themselves. The best thing we can do to honor the dedicated service of our caregivers is to remain vigilant and adhere to the social distancing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the PA Department of Health. We are beginning to see good news nationally that social distancing may be flattening the curve, and this is absolutely essential to our own communities and our nation’s ability to manage this crisis.


On Helping & Helpers

Commissioner Wheeler, in times of crisis, there are always those that step up. Is that what you see in our community?

Without a doubt. So many are providing 24/7 services. We give an extremely special thank you to all who are on the front lines serving our community. Whether it’s our first responders, our healthcare professionals, and organizations who must provide 24×7 services, to our trusted grocery store clerks and delivery personnel, you are appreciated.


Dr. Gapstur, WellSpan just recently joined the 100 Million Mask Challenge. How can we help?

The 100 Million Mask Challenge is an initiative launched by the American Hospital Association. We’re asking the community to come together to help us meet the demand for masks by making them for our health care heroes and patients who visit our care locations. We’ve created a mask pattern that can be downloaded from WellSpan.org/COVID19Help, and we have opened mask donation sites in each of our communities. In York, the site is located at 601 Memory Lane, and in Hanover, the donation site is located at WellSpan Health and Surgery Center at 1227 Baltimore Street. Both sites are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.


And lastly, we have to ask, Commissioner Wheeler, how do you remain calm and focused in this time of crisis?

Having a great support system has been essential for me. Whether its leaning on a mentor for coaching, a colleague for business insight, or a friend for moral support, or my family for catharsis and to mentally and emotionally disconnect for a bit. All of this is grounding. Before I go to bed at night my husband asks me, did I do the best I could for my community today. It is personally important that I can confidently answer “yes” to that question each evening as my head hits the pillow.



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