Daphne Bramham: Vancouver’s ‘secret’ Olympic legacy in this COVID moment? Expertise

To get as many vaccine doses delivered as quickly as possible, the B.C. government turned to 2010 Olympics executives for help.

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Pssst. Wanna know a state secret? With 7.4 million doses of vaccine needing to get into the arms of British Columbians and no military to call on for logistical support, the provincial government did the next best thing.

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They called on Vanoc’s senior management team.

Yup, the same people who ensured that the 2010 Winter Games venues were finished ahead of time and on budget, that athletes, journalists and officials were properly fed and watered, buses ran on time, events started and ended according to schedule, and all the other details including whether there were enough Porta-Potties.

For at least the past three months, they have been quietly, calmly and efficiently making sure that every dose of COVID-19 vaccine that arrives in B.C. gets delivered and into arms. (Well, the team minus John Furlong, who’s busy trying to deliver another Games bid.)

Their expertise is as much an Olympic legacy as the Sea-to-Sky Highway or the Canada Line. But for some reason, nobody wants to talk about it. Four days after waiting for confirmation that Vanoc alumni are working for the government, the health ministry’s communications people advised that the only way to find out was to file a freedom of information request. Yes, really.

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So far, the only person publicly identified on the immunization team is “executive lead” Dr. Penny Ballem. She’s a hematologist, chair of Vancouver Coastal Health, a former deputy health minister, and, perhaps most importantly in this instance, she was Vancouver’s city manager during the 2010 Winter Games.

Perhaps the silence is because they were hired with no-bid contracts at rates of more than $2,000 a day, according to TheBreaker.news. Ballem’s contract runs from January to October, the others she hired were at least initially for shorter terms.

The alumni include: Terry Wright, John McLaughlin, Lizette Parsons Bell, former managing director of Games operations Mary Conibear, and Paralympics director Dena Coward.

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During a pandemic, who better to call for help than people living in the neighbourhood who not only have experience managing highly complex projects that are put together in ridiculously short periods of time, but have worked together and know each other well?

That is especially so considering the rocky start to widespread immunization in March, with mixed messages from different health authorities, computer registration systems that crashed, and logistics problems at some clinics that left elderly people standing in line for more than an hour after their appointment time had passed, and the fear that rare doses may be wasted.

Since then, all kinds of help has been mustered, including from B.C. pharmacists, who early on and with little notice, stepped up when it appeared that thousands of AstroZeneca doses might expire.

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Wright is a details guy. People working with him say that at any given time, he seems to know exactly how many doses are available, and where each of them is. They also tend to gush about how calm and decisive he is under pressure.

If doses are languishing, Wright or someone else is quick to call up the appropriate health authority, clinic manager or pharmacy and tell them to get shots in arms or someone will be coming to pick those doses up and move them to where they can be used.

You’ve likely never heard of Wright before. When things went well during the Olympics, others were quick to take credit. And, fortunately, things mostly went well.

Wright, a low-key chartered accountant, spent 11 years working first on the Olympic bid and then on the organizing committee. By Games time, 50,000 people worked for him.

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Both he and McLaughlin, who was Vanoc’s chief financial officer, cut their big-project teeth at Expo 86. Both started in the finance department, with Wright quickly moving to operations, while McLaughlin managed its considerable entertainment budget.

Years later, McLaughlin told Business In Vancouver magazine that what he quickly learned is that the way to get things done was to “really find out” what people need and make sure they get it.

It’s a lesson that is as applicable to getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible as it is to keeping rock stars happy.

With nearly 80 per cent of those 12 and older having now had their first shots and more than 40 per cent with second doses, it wouldn’t hurt Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix to spread some of the credit around, not just to the Vanoc alumni, but to others as well.

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Who was it at Fraser Health who came up with brilliant idea to take mobile clinics to crowded beaches on a screaming hot weekend, and to hold an all-night clinic that included red carpet, entertainment and selfie stations?

Some well-placed praise would be welcome even as restrictions are lifted, masks are coming off, and we’re able to eat in restaurants and travel again, because we’re not done yet.

Exhausted frontline workers will still be wearing their protective equipment until even more people are vaccinated. And beyond that? The immunization team is likely already thinking about booster shots for next year.

dbramham@postmedia.com

Twitter: @bramham_daphne

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