By Philip Reed
On Aug. 27, WAPA hosted its third COVID-19 virtual town hall event, providing updates on the pandemic to employees across the organization’s 15-state footprint and giving them a forum for having their questions answered.
Safety and Occupational Health Manager Krystall Valencia hosted the event, which began with remarks from Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel, who expressed his appreciation for the professionalism, dedication and flexibility of WAPA employees.
“I have said it before and will say it again: The people who work at WAPA are the best in the business,” said Gabriel. “We have maintained our high standards of excellence, productivity and service throughout this pandemic, meeting all of our third-quarter performance goals.”
He explained that employees would soon be receiving Administrator’s Coins of Excellence for their work during the pandemic.
“This performance consistency in the face of adversity demonstrates how resilient and strong WAPA is as an organization, that we can pick up and leave our offices with days’ notice, fully expecting to return in a couple of weeks, and instead adapt and flourish in a completely new working environment,” he said.
Gabriel then discussed the potential for workplace reentry, speaking about the factors that complicate a single, uniform solution. This includes the fact that different states within WAPA’s service territory are facing different pandemic conditions, with many of them struggling to contain COVID-19 and others with only a tenuous hold of the situation. Other issues include the start of in-person schooling in some areas, the lack of availability of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, the looming flu season and potential concerns regarding heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in WAPA’s facilities.
Gabriel reminded employees that, in spite of these challenges, teams across WAPA are dedicated solely to the cause of safe and responsible reentry.
“What we do not want to do is return to the office only to again return home because local conditions deteriorate or, even worse, due to an outbreak in our buildings,” he said. “This will be a measured, gradual reentry focused on good science and, most importantly, protecting your health and safety.”
Gabriel also introduced Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Michael Peterson and then turned things over to Acting Chief Strategy Officer Stacey Decker, who discussed the results of the recent WAPA-wide wellness survey. The anonymous survey – the third conducted during the pandemic – revealed that increasing numbers of employees reported that they do not feel ready to return to the workplace. Their reasons included potential exposure to COVID-19, having to wear a mask for extended periods and the fact that many schools are starting classes in remote or hybrid status.
Chief Public Affairs Officer Teresa Waugh then spoke about the Integrated Communications Group, Emergency Management Specialist Tarra Keathley discussed COVID-19 gating criteria and Safety and Occupational Health Manager Matt Monroe covered facility readiness. Senior Human Resources Business Partner Nikki King then discussed flexible options for teleworking employees and provided safety tips regarding the proper wearing of facemasks. Valencia then announced the winners of the WAPAwide mask photo contest. Chief of Staff Melissa Ardis closed the meeting by facilitating a live Q&A with employees.
“I want to reiterate how proud I am of all of you and your ability to overcome, adapt and thrive,” said Gabriel at the end of his remarks. “Working together, we can respond effectively to the any challenges facing us, successfully deliver on our mission and support our customers, all while also living up to our core value to ‘Do what is right. Do what is safe.’ The safe and right choice may not always be the easy choice; that is why that core value is needed, to remind us that traveling the safe and principled path is the path to a bright and successful future.”
Reed is a public affairs specialist.