MHS Alumna Supports White House Coronavirus Task Force
While these are extraordinary times—we are extraordinary people. Many of our Milton Hershey School graduates are on the front lines of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and they are bringing hope to others. These are their stories.
When the White House Coronavirus Task Force holds a press conference to update the country on the COVID-19 pandemic it’s using data from its experts to provide easy-to-understand interpretations about the spread of the virus and the country’s needs. One of the experts assisting this task force is Milton Hershey School alumna United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Capt. Kimberly Elenberg ’88.
A doctor of nursing practice, an informaticist, public health administrator, educator, and a leader of national prevention strategies, Elenberg supports the Office of the Secretary of Defense in its work with the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
She and her team have created a platform that produces models to help the country’s top coronavirus leadership team make informed decisions on behalf of the nation. This includes a large range of data possibilities to predict when and where the virus will peak and where personal protective equipment (PPE) or military medical staff need to be stationed.
“If you want to win the Superbowl, you don’t just think about where it’s going to occur or what team you’re playing against,” she said. “You also need to understand your team’s capabilities. Do we have the right uniforms? Do we have the right staff to support the team? Who on our team is injured? Given the strengths of the other team, who are the best players and what plays do we run? That’s how you win the game.”
Before her work on the task force, Elenberg spent 27 years in the military. Most recently she worked on a platform to optimize soldiers’ performance. The team analyzed military data to determine the skills required to achieve and win missions. They analyzed a person’s strength of mind, body, and spirituality for peak performance.
“I was already building out [a similar] capability and the artificial intelligence needed to make assessments,” she said. “So, it was easy to pivot to support, understand, and assess COVID-19 so that we could help the secretary and undersecretary make decisions to support the entire COVID-19 response.”
Her modeling and evaluation team is comprised of five people, but they are just one of the many lines of effort supporting the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Together there are 71 people focusing on mitigating the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on the U.S.
“In 12 days, we built out a huge capability. So not only can we identify when risk is going to occur—like when hospitals are going to reach capacity—we can determine when to shift or move resources,” she said.
Elenberg’s background is in nursing, biology, and computer science. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, she worked with the Department of Agriculture to build a system to identify when someone is intentionally or un-intentionally trying to contaminate the nation’s food.
“I had a food service background and an agriculture experience from Milton Hershey School,” she said. “When you marry that with my biology and health background it really prepared me for the work that was to come.”
From there, Elenberg was brought in to build and train the U.S. Public Health Service’s response teams. This work also included writing the playbooks for the Department of Health and Human Services—including the pandemic playbook.
“I love that I get to serve the people and get to be part of a community that serves others,” she said. “If we didn’t have community that helped each other and looked out for each other, I’d never be in the position I’m in today.”
Elenberg grew up on a hill very close to Milton Hershey School. She knew of the school not only because she grew up just a hilltop away, but because of her positive interactions with MHS students on the local swim team.
When her mom got sick with breast cancer everything changed.
“It was a really sad time. I didn’t want to leave my mom, but I was a kid, what could I do? She could no longer care for me and my brother,” she said. “So, I rode my bike to the admissions office at Milton Hershey School.”
Following graduation from MHS, Elenberg earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Temple University in Philadelphia and earned a four-year ROTC scholarship.
From there she earned her master’s degree in informatics from the University of Maryland, and went on to graduate summa cum laude with a doctorate in nursing practice from The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.
“I am really grateful to MHS. The school taught me about giving and community. Mr. Hershey gave back to his community,” she shared. “What I learned living on the hill behind the school with my mom is that it takes community—you can’t do it by yourself. If you are able to help folks get a leg up, and they help more folks and those folks help more folks, it exponentially helps the world.”
Three Tips from USPHS Capt. Kim Elenberg ’88 on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic
Think About the Risk to Others
“Don’t just think about the risk to you. Think about the risk to others. We may be asymptomatic and not realize it. We’ve always embraced individual rights, but now is a time to think more broadly and for the whole of your community.”
“You need to have patience. This is going to be a marathon. Life isn’t going to just go back to normal. There are so many virus reservoirs out there and there is no way to tramp it down. It’ll be like influenza or chicken pox. Until we have a vaccine there will be flair ups and ongoing issues. So, we need to be patient.”
Give Long Distance Hugs
“It’s the little things that make a difference. For those front-line workers who are out there and working hard, send a card or a thank you. Give long distance hugs to others because it’s uplifting and welcomed.”
Do you know of an alum on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak? Is it you or someone you love? Share your stories with us! Submit them here ➡️ https://bit.ly/2VhrOT4