Meet the Mind Behind Bethel’s Pandemic Planning: Q&A with Kristi Moline

With a background in preparedness planning for public health emergencies, Kristi Moline has led Bethel's pandemic response as the director of COVID-19 operations.

By Jenny Hudalla '15, lead communications specialist

October 08, 2020 | Noon

Kristi Moline, director of COVID-19 operations

Kristi Moline, director of COVID-19 operations

Kristi Moline GS'15 worked in finance, government, and healthcare before becoming the executive director of Bethel's Center for Healthcare Excellence in 2016. Now, she's leading the university through an unprecedented season as director of COVID-19 operations. 

You have a background in pandemic planning and preparation. Why is this a professional interest of yours?

When I graduated from college in 2002, local public health agencies were starting to receive grant funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prepare for large-scale public health emergencies, including terrorist attacks using anthrax and pandemic flu. I worked in a local public health agency for a while doing preparedness planning and then co-founded a consulting company that helped public health and other first-responder organizations prepare for emergencies. I thrive in environments that challenge me to solve complex problems, and public health preparedness certainly is a complex problem that has occupied my time and interest for many years. 

How has your previous experience prepared you for your current role as director of COVID-19 operations?

I feel like it's really a culmination of the skills and experiences I've gained throughout my career that have prepared me for this role. I have often stepped into new roles where I was charged with creating something that didn't exist before. In public health, we were planning for disasters when that role had typically been left to traditional first-responder organizations. During my time at U.S. Bank, I was on a team developing a new way to issue credit cards. At Children's Hospital, I led the first-ever injury prevention program and launched the first organization-wide telemedicine program. All of these experiences have given me the tools I need to navigate in ambiguous environments, acting on the information available at the time, and the fortitude to lean in and solve problems. It's a strange comfortability I have working in the unknown.  

How would you describe the core strategy behind Bethel's pandemic response?

Our COVID-19 strategy has three prongs. First, we established our community expectations—things like wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing, and staying home when sick. Next, we supported those expectations with policies, protocols, and procedures, like paying employees who miss work due to quarantine. Finally, we reinforced expectations through physical infrastructure changes, like reduced classroom sizes and rearranged furniture, to accommodate for physical distancing and increased access to hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies.

While other universities nationwide are suffering outbreaks, Bethel has a very low number of infections on campus. Why has our plan been successful so far?

The vast majority of our community members are taking this pandemic seriously and are doing whatever it takes to stay together. They are abiding by our community agreement, and we haven't seen cases resulting from house parties, like at many other universities, as a source of spread. The success of our efforts lies squarely on the shoulders of each and every member of the Bethel community. We were also intentional about our planning, and we've built the appropriate infrastructure to respond to COVID-19 on campus. We have a COVID-19 operations team set up in an incident command structure, which provides overall leadership and coordination of COVID-19 related activities, and we've built our own capacity for testing, contact tracing, and isolation and quarantine on campus. This allows us to quickly identify close contacts of those who are sick, which slows the spread. Finally, I believe the Lord is faithful when we are faithful. Countless people have been praying for our protection, and I believe the Lord is answering those prayers.

What is most challenging about this work? Most rewarding?

The biggest challenge is that things can change dramatically from one day to the next, so trying to manage the daily change has been complex. Early on in our planning, we didn't know what we didn't know, so it required learning and adjusting every day—that's all part of the process of building something that didn't exist before. The most rewarding part of this work is seeing all the infrastructure in place and working, which enables our students, faculty, and staff to come back together as a community. Having students back on campus is really the reward of all this work. 

Like many Americans, the pandemic has significantly affected your life and work. How do you stay grounded in the midst of a national crisis?

There have been many days where I feel I've failed miserably to stay grounded and ended up letting the stress of this season take over. I have to be really intentional about how I spend my time during this crisis. I’ve spent a lot of time praying—praying about decisions that need to be made, provisions for workforce or resources, and peace and comfort during this time. I've also spent a lot of time saying prayers of thanks. It's amazing how powerful gratitude is during times of increased stress. 

As we approach the halfway point in the semester, what do you want the Bethel community to know?

I want the community to know how grateful I am for all of their individual efforts to maintain a safe environment for our students, faculty, and staff. We’re seeing the strong commitment our community members have toward that goal. That said, it’s easy to become complacent as we look at the numbers and adjust to this new way of life. I'd love to say that we're through the woods, but we're just now entering the cold and flu season. I'd like to just encourage us to keep it up and expect we'll be in this for the long haul.

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Our COVID-19 website offers the latest information about policies, procedures, and the impact of COVID-19 on campus. 

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