MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When it comes to battling the COVID-19 pandemic, not many people can say they have done more to help than Dr. Lee Smith.
Smith is the executive director of the Monongalia Co. Health Department (MCHD), which means he has been directly involved with the pandemic since March. He and his staff have helped inform the public, set up testing drives, contact trace, and now distribute the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. But would he consider himself a hero?
No. I guess that I don’t keep a clear definition of what heroism is, and I don’t aspire to let that be what motivates me. I’m not doing this job as a means to an end. And so I guess that I don’t see myself as a hero because I’m sort of focused on trying to do the small steps to get us to the next place. I think that what I have found is that during these times of crisis is that some people want to have the perfect plan, and I’m kind of hardwired that I — I might be wrong, but I’m never in doubt. I’m kind of one of those people that I’ll make a decision and then move forward with it.Dr. Lee Smith – Executive Director, MCHD
Smith admits that he has made errors in his career and since the pandemic started in March. But the name of the game, he said, is adapting and moving forward.
Interestingly, when you ask Smith about his work, he ends up speaking about his team in length. That’s because, for Smith, his desire to help doesn’t come from a selfish standpoint. Instead, he’s too busy trying to elevate the morale of the fewer than 100 people that work at MCHD who he feels really get things done.
As for those who did the “real heavy lifting,” Smith points to his handful of nurses, as an example, who has been tasked with a lot during the pandemic.
“And now, we’ve been tasked with doing vaccines, and I think that most of us are just so busy that there’s really not any time to give a thought about what does this — how might others view us,” Smith said. “That does not ever really rise to the surface there. We just have jobs that we have to do, and I’m really happy that the folks who work at the health department are able to meet the call. Somehow, we keep answering the bell and moving forward.”
The standard of excellence at MCHD does not only apply to the coronavirus but instead to all its undertakings. Smith said the department continued to do family planning, run its STD clinic, perform inspections and address public complaints throughout 2020.
As mentioned earlier, they are working on vaccine distribution while many other counties have been unsuccessful in rolling out their doses.
“I’m just happy we’ve got the skill and the talent to do it,” Smith said. “I just happen to find myself in a leadership position and I’m kind of maybe driving the car if you want to use that analogy. I’m trying to keep us off the rocks, out of the ditches is sort of the main thing.”
While Smith may not perceive himself as a hero, he is certainly someone who is actively involved in keeping the public safe.
That is why he used his platform to talk about himself to get a message out to the public.
“My sentiment is don’t give COVID for Christmas and stay safe and do the things that we know work,” Smith said. “And I would encourage people to get their influenza vaccine while they’re waiting on their COVID vaccine. And it’s a scary place that we live in, this world; now there are mutated strains that are even more highly infectious, and people need to do those things that work. Wear a mask, distance, wash your hands, avoid crowds, those kinds of things.”