Equity in Healthcare for Most At-Risk Focus of CHDS Alum’s Work

Whether attending the Center for Homeland Defense and Security while pursuing her doctorate at St. John’s University, working as a Washington, DC, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency program manager, or serving as a North Shore University Hospital Senior Emergency Management Specialist, Dr. Rosemary McDonnell has kept her eye on her goals.

Dr. Rosemary McDonnell

McDonnell (Emergence Program cohort 2102, Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program cohort 2302) has made healthcare equity and inclusion for the most at-risk populations her overarching focus, whether operating in academics or as a homeland security practitioner. McDonnell credits her CHDS education for helping her pursue that goal simultaneously in multiple roles.

“My CHDS education was truly transformative in terms of giving me the tools to navigate this intersectionality of being both an academic and practitioner in the field of homeland security,” she said. “CHDS cares about personal development, not just solely furthering the practice of homeland security. By challenging me to look beyond topical and theoretical knowledge in the field, I was able to critically think about practical, long-term solutions for monumental issues and grow leadership skills to be able to implement those initiatives with support from my peers.”

McDonnell said the homeland security enterprise is “greatly affected by deep-rooted problems in seemingly unrelated fields, and CHDS gives its alumni the dexterity to be able to attempt to effectively ameliorate those issues regardless of the industry they may pursue.”

In addition, she praised her fellow CHDS alums as colleagues who “not only serve as an encouraging and motivational support network, but they have also assisted me in amplifying the reach of any articles published, presentations given, calls for feedback, and the like.” McDonnell said she believes the CHDS alumni network encourages challenging traditional ways of thinking about homeland security theory and practice. “Innovation is not only encouraged within this network, but also it is celebrated, it is challenged, and it is regarded as a prerequisite to any organization’s wellbeing and to our nation’s resiliency.”

McDonnell with her classmates at the CHDS Emergence graduation ceremony at the Naval Postgraduate School in June 2022 (Monterey, CA)

McDonnell said she pursued her academic work in healthcare equity while simultaneously attending the CHDS Emergence Program, working as a hospital emergency manager, and conducting her doctoral dissertation study at St. John’s University. Her Emergence Program Change Initiative called for the creation of a Vulnerable Populations Subcommittee within her hospital’s Emergency Management Committee, whose mission would be to address any healthcare disparities and enhance emergency planning for populations with disabilities or other access and functional needs; the hospital would incorporate them into emergency drills and exercises, as well as existing emergency training, and create a new position and job action sheet devoted to inclusive crisis communications. The Change Initiative was fully implemented at the hospital, she said, and the subcommittee’s work continues to this day.

In the same time period, McDonnell said her doctoral dissertation study examined the sufficiency of emergency planning that at-risk populations with communication barriers may experience in a New York City hospital setting. Her doctoral dissertation was directly correlated to her Emergence Change Initiative; she said she was fortunate to have gone through both programs concurrently.

Through a survey she developed and validated, McDonnell said she was able to measure the sufficiency of emergency planning for people with limited hearing, limited sight, and limited English proficiency in her hospital. The results of this survey served as the impetus for her Emergence Change Initiative.

McDonnell said her Emergence experience also impacted how she formed the recommendations section of her doctoral thesis because she gained “many new perspectives on effectuating change and viewing problems more holistically and as part of the larger homeland security landscape.”

“Emergence was truly the invigorating catalyst for me to complete my study and pass my doctoral defense,” she said. After publishing her dissertation, McDonnell said she pursued several public speaking engagements to promote the concepts in her doctoral study in an effort to effectuate change in the field. She used many of the skills she learned during Emergence, including effective presentation aimed at capturing the attention of audiences and inspiring them to bring the message back to their organizations.

McDonnell presenting her original paper, “Shaping an Inclusive Future: Sufficiently Incorporating Vulnerable Populations into Homeland Security Curricula,” at the CHDS 15th Annual Homeland Defense and Security Education Summit in October 2022 (Monterey, CA)

McDonnell said she presented her study at the CHDS University and Agency Partnership Program’s 15th Annual Homeland Defense and Security Education Summit in 2022. She said she then connected with an audience member who worked for the Washington, DC, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, which led to her applying for her current position as the agency’s Senior Disability, Access, and Functional Needs Program Manager.

In her current role, McDonnell said she works to integrate the needs of all populations into the District’s emergency planning efforts, leveraging the knowledge and experience she gained from her accessibility work at CHDS and St. John’s University doctoral program to “lead the District into the inclusive emergency management space to ensure that our missions of providing accessible communications, sheltering, transportation, outreach, and more are being met.”

That effort included partnering with the agency’s Preparedness Bureau and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer so as to incorporate considerations for the disability community into all emergency service plans, and working with the DC Mayor’s Office of the Deaf, Blind, and Hard of Hearing and the DC Metropolitan Police Department to facilitate a focus group of Deaf community members to evaluate the District’s public-facing active shooter preparedness training.

Earlier this year, McDonnell authored an article for Risk Management Quarterly, the journal of the Association of Healthcare Risk Managers of New York. She said she “tailored the theories presented in my previous studies and presentations to better fit the perspectives of healthcare risk managers to describe the inherent risks associated with not considering the needs of people with disabilities or other access and functional needs in hospital emergency plans.”

“One of the concepts stressed during my education at CHDS was how to make your ideas relevant for any given audience and remain versatile in terms of how you approach different constituencies,” she said. “This learned skill has served me well in terms of gaining support for my research and initiatives by being able to build a diverse network to serve as force multipliers.”

McDonnell serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor at St. John’s University, as well as an Adjunct Professor at Idaho State University, teaching various emergency management and homeland security courses. In addition to the CHDS Emergence and REP programs, she graduated from the inaugural cohort of the St. John’s University Homeland Security Doctorate of Professional Studies program.

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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