The Value of Partnership and Collaboration During a Crisis

In late spring, there was no shortage of problems facing our nation’s public health. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created a need for increased testing, education on prevention, and contact tracing efforts to stem growing infection rates. Of course, all areas of the country were faced with similar issues, but at varying levels. In Virginia’s Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District, conversations between health-focused foundations and area colleges and universities led to a creative solution for a contact tracing program, bridging the gap as the state mobilized efforts to meet this incredible and unexpected need.

The Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, Culpeper Wellness Foundation and the PATH Foundation partnered to fund a contact tracing program, in collaboration with nursing programs at George Mason University and Lord Fairfax Community College.

With oversight from the Virginia Department of Health and clinical instructors from the nursing programs, eligible students could volunteer for the contact tracing program and earn up to 24 hours of clinical experience. This collaboration meant students who were unable to continue their studies because of pandemic restrictions could pivot to gain experience in public health, while helping the community.  The contact tracing program allowed the local health department to focus on case investigation and other essential services.

Virginia’s Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District covers five counties: Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Madison and Orange. The students not only communicated public health information to residents in all five counties, but they also assisted wherever needed in connecting residents with county resources from childcare help to picking up groceries in the event they were told to quarantine.

The nursing students’ primary responsibilities involved reaching out to community members in the five counties who had been exposed to positive COVID-19 cases, assessing their symptoms, providing education, and asking about any other potential concerns. During slower times, faculty were able to offer instruction on public health, pharmacology and more. Students gained valuable experience by learning how best to educate others on health issues, assess needs faced by those contacts, and gain a true understanding of how social determinants impact public health. Perhaps most importantly, they learned how to best communicate and interact with the public during a health crisis.

We know from studies that hands-on learning provides the greatest educational opportunity. While classroom instruction is necessary, being able to spend time in the field is extremely valuable and working alongside professionals during a crisis provides an invaluable life experience. The sad fact that this pandemic could be eclipsed by others in the future, makes this work even more important.

Navigating the extremes of the past six months has been challenging at best, and our foundations have been fortunate to be in a position to act quickly and respond in critical situations. Individually, we work to support our communities; but working together and collaborating with GMU and LFCC led to the creation of a regional program as statewide efforts were established.  Partnering for the greater good of our communities not only met the needs of public health, but also furthered the education of future nurses and health care workers.

We’ve learned from this experience that we all need to think more collaboratively in times of crisis; especially when financial resources and human capital are limited. Our colleges and universities hold a plethora of smart, capable young adults enthusiastic to help tackle international as well as local community problems and issues. The ability of this collaboration to effectively mobilize quickly was also of great importance. Once the three foundations got together, everything else rapidly fell into place. All of this was a lesson in the importance of working together and being able to not only reach out to other organizations, educational institutions and government agencies, but to also be able to connect the dots for rapid deployment.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then partnership and collaboration certainly share some of the same DNA. All three aspects – necessity, partnership and collaboration – were critical components in the program’s success.


Christy Connolly

PATH Foundation President & CEO


Dr. William Hazel

Claude Moore Charitable Foundation Senior Deputy Executive Director

Former Commonwealth of Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources (2010-2018)


Shari Landry

Culpeper Wellness Foundation President


This letter was printed in the Richmond Times Dispatch on September 28, 2020