Tumpey Presentation Transcript


Tumpey Presentation Transcript


TUMPEY: I had been working for two weeks with a partner in New York City, and that Monday, Bryan and I flew up to New York City, and the following day we did a training with five thousand healthcare workers at the Javits Center and actually demonstrated this guidance. That the entire timeframe was just such a whirlwind because we started talking about the event at the [Jacob K.] Javits [Convention] Center on Sunday, October 5th. How this all came about was there was an organization called Partnership for Quality Care, and basically what they are is they're a nonprofit group that works with hospital associations and healthcare unions to educate healthcare workers on a variety of different things--everything from flu vaccination during the flu season to major events like around Ebola to the emergence of antibiotic resistance, etcetera. This particular organization, they had contacted Dr. Frieden. Dr. Frieden had spoken at some event for them a couple months prior. The organization came back to Dr. Frieden and said, we'd like to do something around Ebola. Actually, the center director [of what is now CDC's Center for Preparedness and Response] at the time was [Dr.] Sonja Rasmussen. It got passed to Sonja Rasmussen, and Sonja called me and said, "I'm not sure what to do with this request. Can you join a phone call on a Sunday night with me?" This group of people got on the call from New York, and they laid out this plan of, "We would like to do this big training in New York City. We have enough space for 5,400 people." At the time, the nurses had not been diagnosed. This was the first couple days of October. They weren't really sure that they were going to get five thousand people. But what ultimately happened in those couple of days after we said yes to it was that the nurses got sick, and all of a sudden this event became extremely important. Because--one was, we were on the hook to pull off this event and we were on the hook to demonstrate our new updated guidance. So the guidance had to be out and done and ready for literally primetime.

How this all happened was, I knew in order to pull this off, I needed a couple people to be with me. There's one individual who's been a spokesperson for the agency for years, his name is [Dr.] Arjun Srinivasan. He is just an amazing individual. He connects really well with people, he's a great teacher, he can take really complex information and make it very plain language, and people just love him. I knew I needed him. I knew I also needed someone who was going to demonstrate the personal protective equipment. But we also wanted to do it with somebody locally. Given that Bryan Christensen was so involved in the updated guidance--he was literally, as I said, testing the PPE and making sure that the steps made sense--it made sense for him to be the one to go with us. And so we started calling contacts in New York City and ended up finding a nurse from Mount Sinai [Hospital] who was going to come and be the counterpart to Bryan. And then the fourth person who was part of our team to go was a media expert named Melissa Brower who'd worked with me for several years and knew us. Her role on this was to manage potentially the amount of media that would be there.

Okay, so back up. Second nurse gets sick on a Wednesday, guidance was done on a Friday. We work all weekend testing the guidance, refining the guidance. Monday morning, it's time for me to go to New York City, and the guidance is not out the door yet. The plan was--originally, the hope was that the guidance would be released sometime midday that day. This is Monday, October 20th, 2014. Bryan and I fly up first, and we get out of the plane, and we have a huge bag of all the personal protective equipment. We brought extra supplies because we were going to have to demonstrate this we don't know how many times, and we don't know how many times we were going to have to practice in advance. We literally have this massive bag that probably I could fit into. He's pulling all of our luggage off of baggage claim, and we get into a New York City cab. We're sitting in the back, and at the time the New York City cabs had these little, tiny TV screens, and they were running news that said the CDC is coming to New York City and they're going to train five thousand healthcare workers tomorrow on Ebola. [laughs] We're literally watching the preview of what we're about to do as we're driving in the cab to the location.

We decided, thankfully, that we were going to go to the Javits Center Monday afternoon/evening, and we were just going to make sure everything was in place. If you've never been to the Javits Center before, it's several New York City blocks long and wide. We end up getting dropped off at the opposite end, and we walk for what felt like days, and I literally thought oh, this is not the place where we're having this event. Suddenly, we finally end up in the right location at the Javits Center, and I realize the size of this room and the enormity of the event that we're about to do. Although I tried to keep very calm for Bryan and tried to keep very calm for all of the organizers that were there, I was extremely nervous about how this was going to go. I wanted to make sure that in particular--the way the setup was going to happen, about two days out from the event, the governor decided he was coming and the mayor decided they were coming. They have bumped CDC down the agenda because the governor has to kick it off and the mayor has to kick it off. Arjun now has a shorter timeframe to basically give his presentation. The plan was to bring Bryan and our nurse from Mount Sinai out to demonstrate the personal protective equipment right after that. This is Monday night, the night before, we start practicing. We end up--not kidding--we practiced for four hours on every little step of the PPE, making sure everything went right, redoing every little hand movement, every little gesture, every point that was going to come out of Bryan's mouth, because he was going to narrate the entire sequence. Every single thing we had to get exactly right. I was more thinking because of the amount of people in there, and at the time it wasn't until the following day that I realized exactly how many media were going to be there.

By this point when we're going through everything, everybody else is still down in Atlanta and the guidance has yet to come out. This is Monday night and our event kicks off first thing in the morning on Tuesday morning. It ends up that the press conference that Dr. Frieden does is something like seven o'clock or something that night, and the guidance officially--my team was working on it. They didn't get it officially posted until sometime after midnight that evening.

Q: What took it so long?

TUMPEY: They were just making sure--again, we didn't want to put it up and have to pull anything back. They literally went through line-by-line-by-line-by-line. Made sure there was no error in the editing process, made sure there was no error in putting up the website. We were so cautious because at that point the amount of negative media we had been getting around the guidance, we had to do this right. We absolutely had to do this right.

Finally, I get a text, press conference is a go. I'm listening to the press conference as Bryan and the nurse from Mount Sinai are practicing, and they continue to practice on the stage and on the side, etcetera, for quite a while. Finally, we call it a night and decide to go back to the hotel. But we didn't really get to rest because we had other things we needed to work through. We were scheduled after the Javits event to immediately go to--there's a company called Medscape, and Medscape is the largest provider of online continuing medical education for medical doctors in the country. They were also going to tape the exact same sequence for us and get it out to all of their members on the website. We wanted to get this out in several locations. So we spent that evening working through the script and working through all of the other components that we needed to have for Tuesday. One of my team members calls me, we're finally going to sleep, she's finally on her way out of CDC and it's a couple minutes before midnight, and she says that the website's going to go up any minute and the press conference went well and at this point it was all up to us in New York City for the next morning.

Arjun had to stay back for the press conference. He ends up not getting to New York City until nearly midnight, and he's so nervous about the event, he barely sleeps that night. We're up and at 'em first thing in the morning and the four of us are very nervous because we knew the amount of attention on the agency and attention on this small group of the four of us, and we're sitting having coffee and muffins and my cell phone starts ringing. It's an individual who is very senior in communications at the Department of Health and Human Services, which is our department over CDC, and he's asking me all these questions to make sure, do I really know what I'm doing? [laughs] Is this going to go okay? What are we going to do? He's hitting me with scenarios and hitting me with walking through what communications people would call the tick-tock--the timeline of everything that's going to happen. Then talking about what's going to happen afterwards, there was supposed to be a press event afterwards, and what are we going to say, and what if we get these questions, and all of that sort of thing. This is like, we've barely woken up and the phones are ringing making sure that this was a good idea. [laughs]

Q: May I interject quickly?


Q: What's a scenario that he would present you with and it's like, you have to be prepared for?

TUMPEY: We didn't know--we had received such bad media attention the several days prior to this, including people who had been fans of the agency. Like Sanjay Gupta, for example, who had come to the agency several times. He had deployed, he knows people in the agency well, we were very good friends with his producer. He had even started doing negative media. We didn't know if people were going--this is five thousand people. Are they going to be okay and be happy and listen, or are they going to riot? Are they going to throw something at us? Is Arjun going to come off the stage and be rushed by people? What is the scenario? I think it was just such a--I mean, the government doesn't do events with five thousand people. In the middle of a major outbreak with fifty-two media outlets there. Fifty-two reporters and media outlets, live. And the whole thing was going to be live-streamed, etcetera. It was just something that had not really been done before, so I think everybody just wanted to talk through the "what-ifs."

We get to the event. We walk in from the back. It literally looked like--you can see the pictures on Getty Images and other places of this massive room with a ton of people and these large screens. All of a sudden we realized, oh my gosh, we're really going to do this. We moved backstage, and there was the governor and there was the mayor and they were all very gracious that CDC was there to present to them. Arjun goes up, and I've never seen Arjun so nervous and it made me nervous because at this point in my time in working with Arjun, we had done major documentaries, we had done major events together, he's always kept his cool. But the fact that he was about to stand up in front of all of these people, he was very nervous. As soon as he went up and started talking, I started pacing because I was nervous. Was it going okay? Was it going too slow? Was everything fine? [laughs] Just the normal anxiety of the person who's trying to coordinate all of it. I will say the dynamic in the room was as if you could have heard a pin drop. Here's five thousand people and they are hanging on every single words Arjun said. He was going almost, I thought, too slow and methodical in how he was saying it, but in hindsight, all of these individuals--they were scared. These were individuals who were really concerned. They don't know anything about--what is Ebola? What do I need to do? What do I need to do to protect myself? What do I absolutely need to know about this disease and what do I need to do if all of a sudden this shows up in my healthcare facility? I was so amazed--I kept peeking out of the back curtain, and I was so amazed looking at the looks on people's faces that they were just hanging on everything he was saying, writing notes, and just fully attentive. Then comes the point of demonstrating the personal protective equipment. As soon as Bryan and the nurse from Mount Sinai start to come out, it was as if you could feel the dynamic in the room start to change. Halfway back in the room, there was a media platform that the fifty-two reporters and media outlets were on. As soon as they started coming out to the side and started to come onto the stage, the fifty-two media outlets jumped off the platform and started running to the stage. This entire thing is being live cast. Thank goodness, the AV [audio/video] folks flip the switch and put a logo up so you can't see fifty-two media outlets running to the stage. The organizers are asking people, calm down, calm down, okay, we need the reporters to calm down. Everybody's going to be able to get a picture, calm down. [laughs] And as everybody calms down, they start to begin their whole sequence of we're going to demonstrate now how to put on personal protective equipment and take it off. They start going through the whole thing, and I think it wasn't until they were finally in the sequence where they were taking off the final pieces of personal protective equipment that I finally took a moment to breathe. I grabbed Melissa Brower, who is my media person next to me, and I said, "We did it." I literally couldn't believe that we had, in the craziness of that October, that in a few-week time period we had said "yes" to doing this. [We had] gone through the whole situation of the two nurses being sick in Dallas and all of the media around that. That we had rewritten government guidance, gotten it cleared, agreed to do something that most people would not have said yes for the government to do, flew up there, and pulled this off live.


“Tumpey Presentation Transcript,” CDC Museum Digital Exhibits, accessed July 19, 2024, http://www.cdcmuseum.org/items/show/803.