Employee Spotlight - Lisa Slaughter

Named a Top Health Care Exec to Watch for COVID-19 projects

Sometimes it starts with a sore throat. For others, it's a fever, fatigue, or a cough. While those ailments sound like typical cold or flu symptoms, the world quickly realized it was something different when this fast-spreading virus shut down the country in 2020.

Lisa Slaughter was at home Sunday morning, March 15, 2020, when she received a call from Tom Romeo, the former general manager for Maximus Federal.

That call would set the stage for Slaughter, Maximus Federal senior vice president, to tackle months of professional challenges, demonstrate her leadership, and eventually earn WashingtonExec's Top Health Care Execs to Watch in 2022 recognition.

"The administration at the White House was forming a COVID-19 task force and I was asked to go to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that afternoon," she said.

When Slaughter arrived, there was a flurry of activity. HHS Leaders and their teams worked diligently to determine their next steps to address the pandemic.

"We saw the numbers – they were climbing daily."

Limited travel and closing businesses led to fear and uncertainty for the American public. This was not H1N1 flu or the bird flu that hit headlines and fizzled out when the viruses failed to gain momentum in the U.S. and other developed countries. This virus was affecting all types of people, not just the very old and the very young, not just people with pre-existing health conditions or who were dealing with chronic illnesses, Slaughter reflected.

"Globally, people from all walks of life were becoming infected and seriously ill. More people every day were becoming infected, and the numbers were rising daily," she said. "People needed to know where to go and how to get tested to determine if they had contracted COVID-19."

On Monday morning, HHS contacted Maximus to set up a call center to notify individuals of their results after being tested for COVID-19 at one of the 47 federally facilitated test sites around the U.S.

"We put everything into motion and had a contact center up and running by that Friday," she said. "We were assisting the 47 federally facilitated sites that the government was going run to operationalize testing in the country."

To effectively and efficiently receive test results, Maximus had to communicate and work with the two main labs conducting most of the COVID-19 testing – LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics – and contact people with their results.

"The biggest thing for us was the timing between when they got tested and how quickly the labs get us the results," Slaughter said. "Once we had that result in hand, we had to get the positive notifications out within 24 hours.

Slaughter was on daily calls with the task force representative and worked with her team to modify and adapt procedures and provide analytics on patients, testing, and geographical data.

"We had a call every morning at 8:30 a.m., to brief out the numbers of tests that we had been able to convey results on; how many were positives, how many were negatives, how many were indeterminate," she said. "That went into a daily briefing to the administration.

"We had to gain the public's trust and make sure they didn't think the calls were scammers," Slaughter added. "Although our people were making the calls, we weren't calling on behalf of Maximus – we were representing the U.S. government. It was a complete learning process. Nothing like this had been done before.

COVID-19 response

Almost a year later, the first shipments of COVID-19 vaccines became available. The White House Administration tasked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to take ownership of the response effort. CDC officials approached Maximus to set up a call center for the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Call center representatives would have to be prepared to answer questions about the vaccine and where people could go to receive it.

The White House focused on a response that would control and contain the virus, which meant getting people vaccinated to prevent further spread and help protect those more at-risk for complications after contracting the virus.

In 45 days, Slaughter and her team onboarded over 20,000 new call center employees to operate the vaccine response call center. Although the pandemic had been waging for over a year, people were still scared and wary of the vaccine's effectiveness.

Lessons learned

While it's been more than two years since the pandemic impacted the world, COVID-19 numbers have waned, but it is still a genuine concern for Slaughter.

"The biggest thing we've learned is the importance of accurate data," she said. "While speculative people claim data can be manipulated to fit the agenda of this agency or that person, detailed analysis can give you real indicators of what's going on."

Because the work Slaughter and her team were doing changed daily, she and her team had to pivot and update methods quickly and often. Clear and timely communication was critical when working with concerned individuals and high-level agencies like the Assistant Deputy Surgeon General, CDC, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Veterans Administration.

Slaughter demonstrated her leadership and dedication throughout the pandemic by guiding her team to modernize and innovate, break down silos, develop procedures, communicate more effectively, and implement technical improvements, all while keeping the American public in mind.

"We tried to anticipate what people's concerns, questions and needs would be, but found through data analysis there were other subjects that came up more frequently than anticipated," she said. "When you listen and find out what the caller really wants to know, you've got to be able to adapt to address those needs. We had to pivot to inform our staff and ensure the public received the most current and correct information. Having the tools and data allowed us to make the assessment and made us more responsive and resulted in a better user experience."

"Agencies cannot operate in silos any longer if we're going to protect the American public," Slaughter continued. "We have to continue to share data quickly and securely."