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Innovation is key to Michigan Guard member's COVID-19 response

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brynt Ellis, medical readiness officer, 127th Medical Group, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan, works at the State Emergency Operations Center in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lansing, Mich., March 28, 2020.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brynt Ellis, medical readiness officer, 127th Medical Group, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan, works at the State Emergency Operations Center in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lansing, Mich., March 28, 2020.

LANSING, Mich. – "All I've ever known my whole life is health care," says Air Force Capt. Brynt Ellis. "My dad was sick the entire time I was growing up – he had three kidney transplants before he died at the age of 46."

There's a lull on the floor of Michigan's State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), where Ellis, a medical readiness officer with the 127th Medical Group, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, is supporting Michigan's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He's reflecting on the road that transformed him from an outsider with some family military connections to an integral part of the Michigan National Guard's COVID-19 pandemic response.

"When I was younger, I never considered the military, because I felt like I wouldn't fit in," says Ellis. "My brother [an Air Force veteran] was the one who actually told me, 'You know, you could really add a skill set.'"

As a civilian, Ellis has an extensive background in health care administration and is the chief clinical officer for Health Design Plus, a health plan solutions resource for Fortune 100 employers. Ellis considers his forte to be the mapping of innovative solutions among stakeholders with competing priorities and demands for resources.

"In an innovation company, we're looking to create value in ways people never expected," says Ellis. "What we look for are opportunities to eliminate waste from systems, because that usually ends up making a better experience for the person – we can come up with solutions people never knew were possible simply by bringing different groups together."

Seven years into his military career, Ellis is using his unique skill set to make a difference at the primary focal point for the state's operations in response to COVID-19. The SEOC is where state, local and federal agencies coordinate the response to a disaster or emergency. The governor, state director of emergency management, homeland security and other agencies direct all state resources at this center when responding to and recovering from an event.

"Bottom line – if they don't have good data, then they can't manage the response to this pandemic," he says. "We are here to provide an initial solution to move forward, to give the governor full situational awareness of what's going on in the state – from a products perspective, from a people perspective, and from a facilities perspective."

Ellis says that in addition to driving an accurate and timely data flow, his background has allowed him to function almost as an interpreter between numerous state agencies as they unite at the SEOC, including Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

"One of the first things I did when we got here was to help them research all the requirements from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) around every piece of personal protective equipment because there are a lot of fakes on the market and there are a lot of things that don't work," says Ellis. "We're trying to translate the need in the field to technical specs for our procurement agents that work for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB)."

It may be surprising that someone with these nuanced administrative skills wears a military uniform. Still, Ellis says the integration of his civilian and military experience is one of the hallmarks of value brought by the National Guard during emergency response situations.

"There are really sophisticated talents in the military and specifically in the National Guard," he says. "These are owned assets of the state and it makes sense to deploy them in this way to maximize the protection of our communities during times like this."

As the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services lead Michigan's response to COVID-19, the Michigan National Guard has additional trained professionals ready to aid state agencies and local organizations. These include logisticians, communications experts, engineers, transportation specialists, medical first responders, and general support personnel. Like Ellis, these technical experts are available to serve their own communities with diverse skill sets and experiences from the civilian sector during situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.

It all adds up to a highly professional, highly effective statewide response.

"My calling has always been to take care of those who take care of people," says Ellis. "I've never been better prepared to be a part of a team like this, at a time like this."

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