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0:36 - Joining the Beshear administration/reaction to beginning of COVID-19 pandemic

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Partial Transcript: How did you join the current administration?

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander describes how he became the Secretary for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS). Prior to joining the Beshear administration, Friedlander worked as the Chief Resiliency Officer for the Louisville Metro Government. In this role, Friedlander worked to provide community services to Louisvillians and tackled important city issues such as homelessness. Friedlander had previously worked for the state government and had no intention of going back until he was invited to be a member of Governor Beshear's transition team in late 2019. Friedlander then was offered and accepted his current position and began working in January of 2020 following Governor Brashear's inauguration. Initially, Friedlander was not that concerned about COVID-19 when it emerged in China, especially since there was very little specific information known about the disease in January and February of 2020. Friedlander was also unconcerned about COVID-19 because previous disease outbreaks such as the Ebola Outbreak of 2014 were largely contained to West Africa. Friedlander began to worry when COVID-19 reached the U.S., which reminded him of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.

Keywords: Andy Beshear; Beshear administration; Chief resiliency officer; Community services; Gubernatorial transition team; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Louisville Metro Government (Ky.)

Subjects: China; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-; Fear; Governors; Homelessness; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Louisville (Ky.); State governments; Viruses; Work

3:41 - Work of Cabinet for Health and Family Services

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Partial Transcript: . . . Can you tell a little bit about what the cabinet does?

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander explains that the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services is similar to the work of the Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) at the federal level. Friedlander describes the services provided by several departments within the cabinet, including providing free meals for seniors, distributing medicaid benefits to Kentuckians, and helping people with substance abuse disorders. Friedlander also mentions that he has worked for the cabinet since 1985 and praises how the cabinet's work has helped Kentuckians over the years.

Keywords: Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Kentucky. Department for Aging and Independent Living; Kentucky. Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities; Kentucky. Department for Community Based Services

Subjects: COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Food; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Public health; Social workers; State governments

5:52 - Work during early stage of COVID-19 pandemic

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Partial Transcript: . . . So tell me a little bit about that like--say February 15th to March 6th period.

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander says it was fortunate for Kentuckians that Dr. Stack began his work in the Beshear administration two weeks before COVID-19 was detected in Kentucky. Friedlander adds that Dr. Stack's leadership helped the cabinet and constituents to get through the difficult early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit, Friedlander was in the middle of making changes to managed care organizations and medicaid enrolment instructions. Friedlander recalls that everyone in the Beshear administration had to essentially become epidemiologists overnight due to the labor-intensive work required for the state's response to COVID-19.

Keywords: Dr. Steven Stack; Kentucky. Department for Cabinet and Family Services; Managed care organizations

Subjects: COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Health; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Leadership; Medicaid; Public health; State governments; Uncertainty

8:15 - Communication during early COVID-19 pandemic

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Partial Transcript: So, can you tell me a little bit about those early moments . . . of trying to communicate this out to your fellow members of the commonwealth.

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander praises Governor Beshear's initial press conferences on updates about the COVID-19 pandemic for Kentuckians as beneficial and reassuring for viewers in an uncertain time. Friedlander also liked Governor Beshear's emphasis on the role of public health departments in each county continuing to provide services such as contact tracing but on a much larger scale during the pandemic. Friedlander states that communication was initially challenging when state government offices closed and all agencies were working from home. Friedlander said it was unprecedented that all of his cabinet members were providing their services to Kentuckians virtually. Friedlander also explains that it was important to project a calm and competent demeanor during the press conferences in order to be a reassuring presence for Kentuckians amidst uncertainty. Friendlander also mentions the work of Dr. Allen Brenzel, the Medical Director of the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health to assist Kentucky parents with explaining the COVID-19 pandemic in a trauma-informed way to their children.

Keywords: Andy Beshear; Calm; Dr. Allen Brenzel; Food assistance; Health departments; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Kentucky. Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities; Kentucky. Department for Community Based Sevices; Work from home

Subjects: Child psychiatrists; Children; Contact tracing (Epidemiology); COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Food; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Press conferences; Public health; State governments; Trauma

11:25 - Importance of mental health/outreach to deaf community through Virginia Moore

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Partial Transcript: There was a lot of talk of individual care . . . mental health--um--and I didn't see that from a national standpoint . . . so why--why in Kentucky is this important?

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander learned the importance of mental health through his work with the 100 Resilient Cities program created by the Rockefeller Foundation. Friedlander used his skills from his participation in the 100 Resilient Cities program to assist with the collective shock Kentuckians experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Friedlander previously worked with Virginia Moore at the cabinet, who became recognizable throughout the commonwealth due to her appearances on Governor Beshear's COVID-19 press conferences as an interpreter for the deaf. Friedlander emphasizes the importance of Moore's work to advocate on behalf of the hearing-impaired community. Friedlander says that Moore helped to spread information about COVID-19 to an often-overlooked community.

Keywords: Andy Beshear; Deaf, Interpreters for; Health departments; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Virginia Moore

Subjects: Communication; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Deaf; Governors; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Mental health; Press conferences; Public health; Resilience; Shock; Sign language; State governments

14:25 - Work during spring 2020

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Partial Transcript: Moving . . . into April and May, how were things changing--

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander recalls that people did not initially know how long the COVID-19 pandemic would last, with one of his friends, a restaurant owner, believing that it would be over in several weeks. Friedlander worked with Dr. Stack and Inspector General Adam Mather to communicate with hospitals and nurses about the latest COVID-19 information. Friedlander explains that all of the departments in his cabinet had to pivot in their methods of providing services to Kentuckians as all state government employees were instructed to work from home. Friedlander says this quick shift to working online led to creativity and innovation in his cabinet in order to fulfil their organizational mission. For instance, procedures for delivering senior meals and site visits to childcare facilities had to be altered in order to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines enacted by Governor Beshear. Friedlander adds that it was initially difficult to communicate with his team via online platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but he encouraged devising creative solutions to newfound issues in cabinet procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Friedlander also cultivated a culture of acceptance for a trial and error method of managing the day-to-day operations of the cabinet, which was a new concept for state government in such an unprecedented time.

Keywords: Adam Mather; Childcare facilities; Dr. Steven Stack; Inspector generals; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Kentucky. Department for Aging and Independent Living; Kentucky. Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities; Kentucky. Department for Community Based Services; Meal delivery; Public health guidance; Senior meals; Site visits; Work from home

Subjects: Change; Communication; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Hospitals; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Management; Nurses; Public health; Social workers; Trauma; Uncertainty; Volunteers

20:38 - Importance of Team Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: --Uh--one of the things that the governor introduced pretty early in--um--his talks was this idea of Team Kentucky . . . can you talk a little bit about--um--both how that--if you were a part of it--how it developed . . .

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander says that the concept of Team Kentucky was an important message during the COVID-19 pandemic that brought Kentuckians together who were going through a very difficult shared experience through the pandemic. Friedlander says that Team Kentucky also embodied the state motto of "United we stand, divided we fall." Friedlander recalls that communities came together in unprecedented ways during the pandemic, which represented the spirit of Team Kentucky. Friedlander also observed increased levels of collaboration amongst the departments in his cabinet, especially on temporarily expanding medicaid benefits in response to the pandemic. Friedlander explains the importance of more insured Kentuckians during the pandemic, since medical costs for COVID-19 patients were lower for those with health insurance coverage.

Keywords: Collaboration; Healthcare; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; State motto; Team Kentucky; Teamwork; Unity

Subjects: Communities; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Medicaid; Public health; State governments

24:17 - Emotional impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me a little bit about the emotions you were feeling as you were communicating these things out?

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander recalls being emotionally impacted from the news that the Treyton Oaks Towers senior living facility in Louisville had an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the spring of 2020. A family friend was a resident at Treyton Oaks Towers and died from COVID-19. Friedlander says it was difficult to see his widowed mother, an avid supporter of the performing arts, unable to attend plays and operas anymore during the pandemic lockdowns. Friendlander felt connected to other Kentuckians experiencing the same issues with caring for elderly and vulnerable family members during the beginning of the pandemic. Friendlander believes that the state was lucky that Governor Beshear launched a COVID-19 response rooted in science rather than the more frustrating (according to Friedlander) federal response to the pandemic. Friedlander shared that it was sometimes difficult to control his emotions during Governor Beshear's COVID-19 briefings, especially since he was working long hours seven days a week at the time.

Keywords: Governor Beshear; Isolation; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Senior citizens; Treyton Oaks Towers (Louisville, Ky.)

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Death; Emotions; Federal government; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Mother; Nursing homes; Public health; State governments; Understanding

29:36 - Masks during COVID-19 pandemic/gifts received during early pandemic

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Partial Transcript: Were you surprised by the reactions to masking?

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander says that he was surprised at the backlash of some members of the public to mask mandates. Friedlander adds that masking helps to protect and decrease the likelihood of vulnerable populations contracting COVID-19 (especially with earlier variants in 2020). Friedlander tries to put opposition to masking in perspective, recalling that the vast majority of Kentuckians complied with mask mandates in public spaces. Friedlander wanted to model good behavior for Kentuckians and wore a mask in public during the mask mandate and at Governor Beshear's press conferences. Friedlander's wife, like many others, made masks during the beginning of the pandemic, which doubled as fashion accessories adorned with bold prints and colors for some people. Friedlander adds that he received masks and coffee mugs from Kentuckians in the mail, which always seemed to arrive at difficult times for Friedlander and served to lift his spirits.

Keywords: Compliance; Governor Beshear; Kentucky. Department for Health and Family Services; Mask making; Mask mandates; Masking; Politics; Public health measures; Style; Supportive; Wife

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Gifts; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Mask making; Masks; Public health; State governments

34:29 - Notoriety from Governor Beshear's press conferences/dealing with negative feedback from constituents

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Partial Transcript: --Uh--you mentioned that you're not a rockstar like the governor or like Dr. Stack . . . but do you feel like you've become--that you lost a little of the anonymity, or you became a bit of a local celebrity?

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander says that he is not recognized very often in public from Governor Beshear's press conferences. Friedlander adds that Dr. Stack got much more attention, both positive and negative from the public than he did. Friedlander did get lots of negative calls and criticisms and appreciates the work of the employees in his cabinet to screen his calls. Friedlander commends the work of Dr. Stack's administrative assistant for working to screen the negative phone calls for Dr. Stack. Friedlander says that it is important to recognize the work of cabinet employees on the front lines responding to potentially upsetting phone calls, which may lead to difficult or traumatic experiences for employees.

Keywords: Dr. Steven Stack; Governor Beshear; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Notoriety; Phone call screenings; Recognition; Support

Subjects: Employees; Fame; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Masks; Press conferences; Recognition; State governments; Telephone calls; Trauma

37:51 - Supporting staff during COVID-19 pandemic

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Partial Transcript: How did you support your staff as they were supporting you?

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander explains that he tried to emulate Governor Beshear's style of communication during the beginning of the pandemic when reaching out to his cabinet. Friedlander utilized several different methods of communication, including newsletters, email, and podcasts. Friedlander says he was understanding of the collective trauma experienced by cabinet employees, not only from the pandemic, but also from the events leading up to the Black Lives Matter Movement (namely the killing of Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville). Overall, Friedlander wanted to support the mission of his cabinet to make a difference in the lives of Kentuckians through their work amidst difficult circumstances.

Keywords: Governor Beshear; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Support

Subjects: Communication; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Employees; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Staff; State governments

39:02 - Self-advocacy of social workers during COVID-19 pandemic

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Partial Transcript: In that same time there has been a--a push for . . . more equity and pay for a number of your cabinet members and--um--a lot of focus within the cabinet . . . to make sure that they are being supported. Do you think that your role in COVID helped make that more seen?

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander recalls that many cabinet social workers have felt retaliated against for doing their jobs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Friedlander explains the five values of his cabinet, which are resilience, equity, structural economic support, health and well-being, and operational excellence. Friendlander believes that cabinet social workers have used this framework to bolster their recent demands for increased pay and support on the job. Friedlander adds that DCBS (Department for Community Based Services) Commissioner Marta Miranda-Straub has emphasized that self-advocacy is a part of resilience, a key organizational goal for the cabinet. Friedlander acknowledges that many social workers have been reluctant in the past to speak out against their working conditions due to fear of retaliation. Friedlander views himself as an advocate for social workers, as evidenced by a token of appreciation gifted to him by the National Association of Social Workers, which sits on his desk at work.

Keywords: Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Kentucky. Department for Community Based Services; Marta Miranda-Straub; Self-advocacy

Subjects: Communities; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Fear; Kentuckians; Kentucky; National Association of Social Workers; Public health; Resilience; Social workers; State governments; Trauma; Values

43:10 - Patchwork bear created by mask makers

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Partial Transcript: And so, that is one of two things on my desk, right. The other is the patchwork bear.

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander describes a bear made out of quilt squares called Ohana (a Hawaiian-language term which means "family") gifted to Friedlander by the Kentucky Mask Makers Quilt Group. Friedlander reads the letter written by the group that they sent with Ohana. Friedlander shares that the COVID quilt created by the mask makers reminds him of the AIDS memorial quilt created in honor of people who died from HIV/AIDS. Friedlander views the quilt squares as symbolic of Kentuckians coming together during the beginning of the pandemic. Friedlander also felt emotional at seeing the COVID quilt displayed at the Kentucky State Capitol.

Keywords: AIDS quilt; Food insecurity; HIV/AIDS; Kentucky Mask Makers Quilt Group; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Ohana; Patchwork bear; Quilt squares; Rememberance; Supportive

Subjects: AIDS (Disease); COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Emotions; Families; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Kentucky State Capitol (Frankfort, Ky.); Love; Mask making; Masks; Quilting; Quilts; State governments

48:00 - Lessons learned from Kentuckians as a public servant

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Partial Transcript: What have you learned about Kentuckians that you didn't know--prior to the pandemic?

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander reflects on the good-nature of many Kentuckians, especially when it comes to helping marginalized populations and people affected by natural disasters. Friedlander says that a meal delivery service for marginalized populations in Louisville was almost entirely volunteer-run, demonstrating the commitment of Kentuckians to help others. Friedlander recalls when he worked for the cabinet prior to the pandemic and was on an orientation trip to Nancy, Kentucky and came across a pickup truck that had spilled its load of wood onto the road. Without hesitation, Friedlander and his colleagues got out of their car and helped the man collect the wood from the road and re-secure it back on top of his truck. Friedlander also relays the story of a social worker who survived the December 2021 western Kentucky tornado outbreak and went out to save thirteen people from the wreckage and debris of the tornado. Friedlander says that these stories highlight the resilience and willingness of Kentuckians to help their neighbors.

Keywords: Bravery; Family resource centers; Governor Beshear; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Kentucky. Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities; Meal deliveries

Subjects: Bravery; Communities; Courage; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Louisville (Ky.); Natural disasters; Resilience; State governments; Volunteerism; Volunteers

51:08 - COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Kentucky/distribution of benefits during COVID-19 pandemic

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Partial Transcript: Can you talk about--um--the volunteering around the vaccine?

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander discusses the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Kentucky, which began with programs to target home-bound and vulnerable populations. Friedlander emphasizes the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine and the difficulties with demand outstripping supply during the initial rollout in the U.S. Friedlander discusses the private (including Kroger and Walgreens) and public partners the Beshear administration collaborated with to establish a steady supply chain for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Friedlander was very excited for his eighty-nine year-old mother to receive the vaccine. Friedlander expresses his gratitude to the medical professionals who worked the early COVID-19 vaccination sites. Friedlander also discusses the criteria by which Governor Beshear and his team decided the populations and age groups that would be prioritized to get the vaccine first. Friedlander also mentions the challenges of distributing benefits to Kentuckians such as SNAP & EBT during the height of the pandemic. Friedlaner says that he wanted to prepare the cabinet to be nimble and responsive to change during the early stages of the pandemic in order to provide essential social services to Kentuckians.

Keywords: Coordination; Dr. Steven Stack; Governor Beshear; Health conditions; Health departments; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Partnerships; Supply and demand; Supply chains; Team Kentucky; Vaccine criteria; Vaccine distribution; Vaccine eligibility; Vaccine sites; Vulnerable populations

Subjects: Age; Communication; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; COVID-19 vaccines; Emotions; Health; Hospitals; Logistics; Mother; Nurses; Nursing homes; Patience; Physicians; Public health; Schools; State governments

59:54 - Emergence from COVID-19 pandemic

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned that you're still a little skittish . . . could you talk a little bit about coming out . . . how did that feel . . .

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander admits that his emergence from COVID-19 pandemic safety measures such as masking and social distancing has been slower than most. Friedlander attended the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival in May of 2022 and only wore a mask while on the bus. Friedlander adds that he only attended performances at outdoor venues at the festival and avoided packed jazz clubs. Friedlander says that he still avoids crowded indoor activities and encourages people to make their own individual decisions about their levels of activity and gatherings at this point in the pandemic. Friedlander states that he hopes people have learned how events like the pandemic can affect people across all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum and to keep that in mind when dealing with social problems such as healthcare reform.

Keywords: Decisions; Governor Beshear; Health conditions; Impacts; Indoor venues; Jazz clubs; Masking; New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival; Outdoor venues; Social gatherings

Subjects: Age; Concerts; COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-; Crowds; Health; Jazz; Kentuckians; Kentucky; Masks; Music; New Orleans (La.); People; Press conferences; Public health; Restaurants; Social distancing (Public health); State governments; Travel

63:41 - Reflections on COVID-19 pandemic

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Partial Transcript: So, we've been asking everyone--um--that we've talked to on that day--so today is July 26th, how are you feeling?

Segment Synopsis: Friedlander believes that it is impossible to judge the decisions made during the pandemic as right and wrong until more time has passed since the pandemic occurred. Friedlander thinks that the Beshear administration made the best decisions they could with the information they had at the time. Friedlander says that Governor Beshear's team was sincere in its goal to make decisions based on what was best for the commonwealth, which Friendlander says is not always true when it comes to decision makers in state government.

Keywords: Decisions; Dr. Steven Stack; Governor Beshear; Kentucky. Cabinet for Health and Family Services

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Emotions; Learning; Motivation; State governments


Eric Friedlander 0:00 [laughing] I'm so ready for this to be over. [laughter]

Mandy Higgins 0:05 Absoutely, I think we all are! But it's good to hear that from somebody--

Eric Friedlander 0:08 Yes.

Mandy Higgins 0:08 --Whose responsible for a lot the-- Okay, it is Tuesday, July 26th., and we are at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, Dr. Moody Higgins, interviewing Secretary Friedlander of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Please spell your name for me.

Eric Friedlander 0:24 Yes, Eric Friedlander. E-r-i-c- F-r-i-e-d-l-a-n-d-e-r

Mandy Higgins 0:29 Thank you, and thanks for being here today.

Eric Friedlander 0:31 Oh, my pleasure.

Mandy Higgins 0:33 We're--I wannna take us back to before the pandemic. How did you join the current administration?

Eric Friedlander 0:38 Oh, well, I was working for the city of Louisville. I was working for Louisville Metro Government. My title was Chief Resilience Officer, which is the best title ever, and working in a group called Community Services. So, it was Resilience and Community Services. And I loved it. I loved it, I loved to work for the city. I love the folks I worked with, I had--was having--just working on homelessness issues, working on--a bunch of things that were sort of adjacent to what the Cabinet does, but it was a community action agency. Anyway, it just--it was my heart. I really didn't have any intention of going, coming back to state government. I just didn't, I was--thought I was done. And then one day, got a call, "would I be interested in coming and talking to the governor-elect," which is a tremendous honor. And I was still trying to figure out exactly what I was going to do or say, but I--I was starting to lean. They asked me to be on the transition [Team] And I'm like, "well, sure, that'd be great." And so, I was on the Transition Team. And then--as I was on the Transition Team, I got a call one weekend to come and meet with the governor-elect. And he invited me to be the acting secretary, which I decided, okay, I'll do it. Because when I was with the Transition Team, first time, I went back to the Cabinet and pulled up and parked my car and I got out of my car and I didn't vomit, and I was really impressed with myself. [laughter] Little did I know.

Mandy Higgins 2:18 Yeah. So that--what acting secretary was after December when he was inaugurated?

Eric Friedlander 2:24 Yes, yes.

Mandy Higgins 2:26 And then, pretty quickly, things changed.

Eric Friedlander 2:29 Yes.

Mandy Higgins 2:30 So, what happened there?

Eric Friedlander 2:32 So, you know, we'd heard about something happening in China. And, you know--because you hear about viruses in other countries, Ebola, things like that, right? And it gets contained, and, you know, it really doesn't get over here much, although, you know, we had HIV and I wonder what that's gonna be like, and so then it started to continue to spread, right? And then we hear it's in the U.S., and you know, I'm like, "oh, please, please, don't--don't come to Kentucky." [laughter] Yeah, yeah. And you know, sometimes we're not terribly mobile here in this state we, you know, we like to stay in our communities. And I'm like, you know, "maybe we'll get some insulation there" and no, and I had left the city and come to the state, and so here comes a worldwide pandemic, I thought I'd made a really poor choice.

Mandy Higgins 3:36 Umhmm. Yeah. [laughter] Before we get into the more nitty gritty of it--

Eric Friedlander 3:41 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 3:41 Can you tell a little bit about what the Cabinet said?

Eric Friedlander 3:43 Oh, sure. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services, is a gigantic Cabinet. We are an $18.2 billion Cabinet's, what we-- what our budget was this year, and actually what we spent this year, and it's, it's a lot like Health and Human Services at the federal level, only, it's for the state of Kentucky. So we have public health, Doctor [Steven] Stack, believe it or not actually works for me. We have Medicaid, we have--which is a $12 billion program. We have the Department for Community Based Services, so that's all the social workers and family support and all of the eligibility pieces. I think that I was really in the beginning primarily talking about. We have our Department for Aging and independent Living, which did the senior meals and things like that. We have the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, their role, right as we come out of the pandemic, they do a lot with substance use. Their role is-- their role is only gonna expand as time goes on. As well as then some some fun places like family resource centers and volunteerism and disability determinations in the office of Children with Special Health care Needs, where I used to work. I used to work--I've worked at the Cabinet since 1985, and I always run into people, lots of people who weren't born yet then and I try not to hold a grudge. [laughter]

Mandy Higgins 5:08 I was born in '85, so--your career and me are together now.

Eric Friedlander 5:14 Okay. So that only hurts a little bit. [laughter]

Mandy Higgins 5:19 Well--plus, I was the child of a school speech pathologist.

Eric Friedlander 5:21 Right--Oh, nice.

Mandy Higgins 5:22 Who have served--

Eric Friedlander 5:22 Very good. Probably, so yeah, absolutely. So anyway, so a lot of really, really good organizations doing a lot of good work. And just I'm, I'm committed to trying to have the Cabinet do great work.

Mandy Higgins 5:41 Yeah.

Eric Friedlander 5:42 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 5:43 That--so you mentioned, you're taking over this Cabinet that's to every Kentucky in some way,

Eric Friedlander 5:48 Right.

Mandy Higgins 5:49 And then the global pandemic. So, tell me a little bit about that, like, say February 15th to March 6th period.

Eric Friedlander 5:58 Hmm. Umhmm. So actually, during that time period, Dr. Stack came on board. And I can't tell you how lucky we are as a state that that happened, it didn't have to, right? I talk about it as, as grace, right? Because of--a team that was in place didn't have to be in place, it could have been a very different team. And so, the fact that Dr. Stack started like, two weeks, basically, before COVID Hit Kentucky. How fortunate are we--he's not--hasn't worked in state government. And so that was--so first, Dr. Stack came. And we had kind of a scare, with a hemorrhagic fever--it's a whole different story. But the team that--really didn't handle that very well. Because of his leadership, all of a sudden, that team handled this well. So enough about that. [It] Was, again we talked with the governor because we--we had just redid the MCO [Managed Care Organizations] the Managed Care Organizations and Medicaid, we had a lot of interesting things happening even before.

Mandy Higgins 7:19 Right.

Eric Friedlander 7:19 And so, I was really focused on--mostly on that. And then, it wasn't really until the beginning of March that it even, it's like, okay, this is coming, right. And we didn't, we didn't know anything. We didn't know how virulent it would be. We didn't know, you know, all those factors about how contagious it is, I won't go into that. But you know, we were--we were all like becoming epidemiologists on the fly. And so, I think the best way to describe how I was feeling coming up to March 6th, and a little bit beyond, was denial. [laughter] Because, who could foresee this? We couldn't foresee it.

Mandy Higgins 8:11 And so--that didn't come across as you were talking to Kentuckians.

Eric Friedlander 8:15 Hmm.

Mandy Higgins 8:15 So, can you tell me a little bit about those early--

Eric Friedlander 8:18 Oh, yeah.

Mandy Higgins 8:19 --Moments of trying to communicate this out to your fellow members of the commonwealth.

Eric Friedlander 8:24 Sure. Well, first, I think--I think the Governor did a brilliant job of having us up there, and really being able to answer questions, right? And to try to well, just reassure folks. This is serious--this is serious. But, I remember one of the first things--maybe it was the first press conference, because I wanted to say, hey, local health departments and public health, this is like what they do, right? They are designed to help us, maybe not worldwide pandemics, but that was part of the design, of tracing disease, tracing contacts--I mean, not to the scale, like nowhere near the scale. But, this is what we do. And it was--it was interesting, because the health departments are like, [gasps] "somebody knows what we do," it was very exciting. And so that was the--that was the first piece and the second was to be reassuring, right? We, here's, I think--here's how you can get food assistance, here's--and we had to change on a dime, how we did that. We moved to virtual, we moved online, and you know, some of our offices, our offices were closed, right? You could drop off paper, but it was a completely different way of doing things. Everybody went home, nobody knew if that was gonna work, no idea. And so, it was about trying to project calm and competence as best we could.

Mandy Higgins 9:59 Yeah. You--I think it was you. So I was like, I'm a Kentuckian--


--For life. So I watched all those [press conferences] too. And I have young children, and I believe that was you who told--who came like the third day maybe to talk about how to talk about this with kids. Can you talk a little bit about that decision?

Eric Friedlander 10:16 So, actually, it might have been Dr. [Allen] Brenzel, who's a child psychiatrist, right? Works for the cabinet, and actually the governor said, "you know, we need to probably figure out how we talk to kids about this." "Got your person for you." Allen Brenzel, he's a pediatrician and child psychiatrist, works for the Cabinet, worked for the Department of Community Based Services, now works for behavioral health, works through UK, and said, "let's, let's give--help give parents some words and reassurance of--of how to speak to kids. And so, I think that was one of the things that was helpful. You know, again, we were trying to be helpful. What tools can we provide people that will make this easier? How do you navigate this, right? So it was early, he may have given me talking points. But at one point, he sat down right, a couple of times when he came up and really went into detail about how you do that.

Mandy Higgins 11:17 Yeah. And there was a lot of talk--you mentioned that you were, but I didn't know this, but your title is resilience.

Eric Friedlander 11:24 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 11:25 There's a lot of talk of individual care. And--

Eric Friedlander 11:29 Yes.

Mandy Higgins 11:29 --And mental health. I didn't see that from the national standpoint--

Eric Friedlander 11:33 Right.

Mandy Higgins 11:33 --So why--why in Kentucky is this important?

Eric Friedlander 11:35 [sighs] Well, it's important to the governor. But I think, and I've been doing my time at resilience, and it was 100 Resilient Cities funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and I got to travel all over the world, it was the coolest job, it was the coolest job. [laughter] But--this was this--was the definition of resilience. How do you--this--it was the definition of an acute shock, right? Which is how we define how you are resilient, how you bounce back from that. So you have to have that concept from the beginning. And so that resilience, helping people be resilient, helping people that--that had to be a primary focus of what we were doing.

Mandy Higgins 12:17 One more of this early--

Eric Friedlander 12:18 Yeah, yeah.

Mandy Higgins 12:20 Virginia [Moore] and her--

Eric Friedlander 12:22 Aww, she's so cool.

Mandy Higgins 12:23 --Interpretations. Shes, so cool, right?

Eric Friedlander 12:24 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 12:25 That was also something that came very early.

Eric Friedlander 12:27 Yes.

Mandy Higgins 12:28 And can you talk about why that was important?

Eric Friedlander 12:30 Well, I think, so I've worked with Virginia for years, I was at the Commission for Children with Special Health Care Needs, right? And it was we, we--I'll still say we, we did a lot of audiology, a lot of speech pathology, a lot, a lot of that kind of work. And so, I'd worked with Virginia, I think, Virginia is not a shy person, if you know her. And so, I think she reached out and said, "hey, we need to communicate to everybody we possibly can." And the governor was a yes, immediately. And so she started appearing, you know like, "oh, Virginia, it's good to see you!" So--it was, it was nice to see somebody that I'd worked with over time. And I knew--I know, her tremendous competence and passion and advocacy. And so, to have her there, again, it was one of those things that he started a trend, I think, to have the interpretation, because we know that folks who are deaf and hard of hearing are one of our largest differently abled minorities, right. And so, of course, we need to reach out and we had [Kentucky] School for the Deaf. And, you know, in Kentucky, we do cochlear implants, and we have a really good Early Childhood Screening Program. So, it was really important. And it was just--it was wonderful to see that that was a--that became such a big part. And like, she became a rock star.

Mandy Higgins 14:00 Yeah. [laughter] When we talked to Dr. Sack, he told us he has his own sign, it was Doctor Bowtie. Do you have a moniker through Virginia?

Eric Friedlander 14:11 Not that I know of, we never talked about whether I did so. [laughter]

Mandy Higgins 14:15 Well, I hope that you can--maybe I'll call her--

Eric Friedlander 14:17 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 14:18 --And find out! [laughing]

Eric Friedlander 14:18 That sounds good.

Mandy Higgins 14:20 Can you tell me a little bit--so moving on from that initial--

Eric Friedlander 14:24 Yeah umhmm.

Mandy Higgins 14:24 --Part. Moving in--deeper into March--

Eric Friedlander 14:26 Right.

Mandy Higgins 14:27 --Into April and Ma, how were things changing and how were people--

Eric Friedlander 14:30 Oh, my gosh, again, we didn't know what we were dealing with. And I again, I will say, I think I was in denial. A friend who owns a restaurat. and actually was in the Courier [Louisville Courier Journal.] I guess almost a year ago. She said, "I reached out to my friend, Eric Friedlander." And I said, "I think you know, I'm planning for a couple of weeks." I said, "oh no, it's gonna be longer than that, I think it's gonna be five weeks." [laughing]

Mandy Higgins 14:57 I have to tell you. I said my--so I have two direct reports. I And--so I sent them home, I left March 12th, and state government closed like--

Eric Friedlander 15:05 Right.

Mandy Higgins 15:05 --The next week, right. And you're like, "well, we're gonna take two weeks." And I said, "take six." [laughter] Thinking, oh we'll be back in June.

Eric Friedlander 15:11 Yeah, right.

Mandy Higgins 15:11 I was only off by a year!

Eric Friedlander 15:12 Right.

Mandy Higgins 15:13 I--I feel okay about that.

Eric Friedlander 15:14 Yeah. [laughter] So yes--

Mandy Higgins 15:16 Yeah.

Eric Friedlander 15:16 I mean, we didn't know, now, we were probably in denial. And the way I thought about it was and if, okay, in three months, in three months, and it was starting [to look] like, okay, we're gonna have to have a vaccine. So the, the characteristic of those early days was, it was just hard to see. Because, we'd never experienced it before. What we were actually in for, and we didn't know, right? Mask--guidance changed, which is actually beautiful, because that's what science is supposed to do. We're supposed to like, look for evidence and see what works and what doesn't work. And that's what happened. It's exactly what was supposed to happen.

Mandy Higgins 15:55 And you had a lot of different sorts of teams to manage through that.

Eric Friedlander 16:01 Yes.

Mandy Higgins 16:02 So, how were you managing say, social workers versus some of the health care or public health?

Eric Friedlander 16:11 So I was, again, Dr. Stack is fantastic. he--is who he is. So Dr. Stack, really took on a lot of talking to hospitals, right. And Adam Mather, who's the Inspector General, took on a lot of talking to the nursing faciilties, he also went along with some other folks who had--all the departments, I encouraged them to take up their roles, right? They need to take their roles and figure out how they would assist. So, the Department of Aging and Independent Living that did senior meals, and we talked about that quite a bit, right? We doubled the meals, we you know, over a million meals got delivered, because we were--we were all working together. Department for Community Based Services, we had to kind of alter how we did visitations and alter how we worked with the child caring facilities, and alter how social workers did their jobs and send everybody--all the family support workers with a duty eligibility, send them home. This is your job now. This has been your job, but today, and well, for the next well, we're trying to make it permanent, as much as possible. You have a new job and a new way of doing things. Well, we had to--we had to do that on a dime. We spun on a dime and Behavioral Health, right with Dr. Brenzel. And so, we were--we were looking at how do we support from a trauma- informed perspective? How do we support folks who are in facilities and--and we also have facilities, Behavioral Health has facilities.

So, we were experiencing the same thing everybody else was. And so, trying to keep information out, trying to keep morale and spirits up, adjusting to an entirely different type of work environment, where we still had a lot of work to do. [laughing] No question about that, and we even--at various times asked for volunteers to help us with the phones or ask for volunteers to help us in public health. And, and people stepped up. So, it was trying to keep everybody coordinated, trying to keep communication open in a time when we were all doing it by [Microsoft] Teams and Zoom. And, do we like Zoom? Do we like teams, what is this? Where we hadn't done any of that before. So, it was really inventing things on the fly and being open to try and trying things. Worked for Mayor Greg Fischer, really good mayor. And he's one of the first folks in government that said to me, "well, it's okay to fail, just fail fast and learn." And so, I was able to take that and say, "look, we're gonna try things that are really different. They are not gonna always work. And as long as we don't get dug in" and say, "okay, this isn't working, let's try something different." That's what we do, and that's what we did.

Mandy Higgins 19:20 Hmm. How did your say--we can just focus on the core team.

Eric Friedlander 19:24 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 19:25 How did they handle and respond to your sort of fail-fast mentality?

Eric Friedlander 19:30 It takes a second when you're in government to like--

Mandy Higgins 19:33 Yeah.

Eric Friedlander 19:33 --Get used to that, because that's not the norm, right? We always like to, you know, we can't fail. But what it did, I think was allow people to be creative, right, and folks were creative. And I mean--how we responded to senior meals as an example, or how we responded to how we were gonna issue SNAP benefits, or how foods--food support, right? Or how are we gonna support childcare centers, right? How were we gonna do that, and where's the funding coming from? And we--let's come up with a way that we're gonna do that. We had to be creative, and I think really, because I didn't see many failures, but what I saw was a lot of creativity. And that's what I think the permission was. It is, be creative, we're gonna do things very differently. And it's okay, and we'll all learn together.

Mandy Higgins 19:33 Yeah. And that came through a little bit. So can you tell--I think this is, it was getting at something--

Eric Friedlander 20:37 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 20:37 --That one of the things that the governor introduced pretty early in his talks, was this idea of Team Kentucky. So, can you talk a little bit about both how that--if you were a part of it, how it developed, and then how that translated into what you're talking about with the creativity in the response.

Eric Friedlander 20:55 So actually, it felt pretty organic, it came up fast. And I think it just--what the governor was trying to do, was give the message of we're all in this together, and how to put it, nice cut here. You know, it's like our state motto, right? United, we stand divided we fall. This was--this was the message and it fit right in with it. And it was all of those, you know, we all need to pull together, and we're all feeling this together, and we're all experiencing this together. And there were so many examples of neighbors helping neighbors and all of the communities pulling together in ways that they really hadn't before. And having the opportunity to show and demonstrate that we could come together as a community Particularly early, that was a beautiful thing to see. And I think that Team Kentucky, helped folks buy into that Now, I stole it [laughter] a little bit within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. And I started communicating with my folks as Team CFHS, right?

Because, we all need to pull together, we can't be in our little departmental silos we--this [is] very different, I had teams from several different departments that were working on initiatives. And so we expanded Medicaid, Right? And expanded--we expanded the concept. Let me try that one again. Okay, we worked on making Medicaid eligibility easy, right? As easy as possible, we boiled a like ten page application to a one page. Go on, start to fill it out. And it was called presumptive eligibility where folks, we insured probably another 120,000 folks throughout the pandemic, who might not have otherwise been able to be insured, who might not have gone all the way through the application process and think about it, people lost jobs, people lost insurance. And so, through the teeth of the pandemic, we helped folks have coverage, and very important to them, but also really important to the hospitals, really important to the nursing facilities, really important to--all of healthcare that we do that. And, and we were able to accomplish that for almost a year. And then we--then we pulled back because we were at that point, thought we were past the major piece of the pandemic, which in some ways we really were. And I'm really--that's one of the things that I think we really did a--that's one of the areas where I think we really did a good job and really helped Kentuckians, and the governor was very clear about that. We--how do we get people coverage? I can do that, you know how to do that. [laughter] So--so we wanted to make sure that we did it and made it as easy as possible for people.

Mandy Higgins 24:12 Yeah. [clears throat] Can you tell me a little bit about the emotions you were feeling as you're communicating these things out? [sighs]

Eric Friedlander 24:23 Oh, there were so many emotions. One of the first nursing facilities, right? Treyton Oaks was one of the ones that just had a meltdown. It was--happened over the weekend, was on some of the calls there and they were just--they were having to go to pieces, they just--and because they'd never experienced anything like that before. And so and--and they were a good facility, right? So they the Virus--COVID Virus did not care whether you were a good facility or a bad facility or you know, how much money you had or didn't have. The virus didn't care, it was a virus. So, I knew one the first people to pass in--in Treyton Oaks, is a friend of my family's for ever, like, knew my parents before they knew each other, right? And so that was really emotional to go through that with some--with some dear family friends. And it was hard. My mother, at that point she had Alzheimer's and dementia. And she's an actress. She read talking books, she loved everybody. She went to all the plays and the operas and things like that. Boom, shut down in a house, right, her husband, my father passed about five years before, first time in her life, she lived on her own, she did great. But you know, then she's isolated. So, you know, folks would talk about, oh, "you can't do that. It's just awful." And I'm like,"I've got my mom in a home guys, I understand what that isolation is and what it does, and I'm experiencing it. "

So it was [sighs] there were lots of emotions. [laughing] Right, because I think we had a really strong response. I'm really, I mean, we have a governor that believes in science. Hooray, right? I mean, my gosh, and he backed us up the entire way. And we go to him, here's, here's best practices. Here's, here's what we think we should do. And he was really great about that. And so there was that kind of pride, right? There was frustration, because sometimes we weren't really clear on what the federal response was, or even meant. There was sadness as folks, as we lost folks that we knew, because we lost folks we knew. Fear, you know, we would go in and see it, meeting with it--with the governor every day, and I'm like, "oh, my gosh, what if I'm the person that brings in COVID?" You know, I mean, we were careful, but still, it's a virus.

Mandy Higgins 27:00 Right.

Eric Friedlander 27:00 Right? And so, have not had COVID? Yay. And I should say yet. But, it was frightening--it was frightening. And then there was some, you know, it was kind of cool to be on with the governor. It's you know, I was a piece on a bingo square. It was very exciting, I think it was a double drinker, I'm not sure. [laughter] So, that's pretty heady stuff. And so it was hard--again, it was hard to imagine it, right? It's hard to like wrap your head around it. And what's that concept look like? Now, I'm not like a rock star, like the governor or Dr. Stack, right? I wasn't on that much, but I was in the beginning. But you know, it's just--it's amazing and how people responded was amazing as well.

On that same line, you all shared a lot of emotions--


Mandy Higgins 27:59 --In the briefing?

Eric Friedlander 28:00 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 28:01 Why was that important?

Eric Friedlander 28:02 I don't know if we could control it all the time. [laughing] I mean, honestly, it really snuck up on you up there. Because there was so much going on, because we were working so hard. We were--at the beginning, right, we were on seven days a week. You know, we were coming in all the time. So, it was--it was a grind. Now, I'm--I'm the elder statesman there, but it was a grind. And I'm glad Dr. Stack is younger than me and the governor's younger than me because they were--they--I think they probably fared better than I. But so there was some exhaustion in there. Where, you know, your emotions are a little closer--close to the surface at that point. And with everything that was going on, all the work that was happening at the Cabinet, all the work that was happening at home, and all the emotion of like, you could feel what was going on in the community, oftentimes, sometimes, negatively. But, you could feel that and it was--it was hard to contain sometimes.

Mandy Higgins 29:06 It really came through and I think it mattered for that--from some of the other folks we've talked to for this series. Partcularly, really the mask makers that they wanted, that they saw the emotion and they wanted to rap y'all in--

Eric Friedlander 29:21 Right, oh.

Mandy Higgins 29:22 --and that's where this quilt came from.

Eric Friedlander 29:24 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 29:24 Um, which leads me into other questions.

Eric Friedlander 29:29 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 29:30 So, starting with the masks. Were you surprised by the reactions to masking?

Eric Friedlander 29:39 [sighs] Yes. It seems a simple thing to do, right? And really, that the masks would protect you a little bit. But, what they really protected, was the other person and I just--. So, it's a matter of perspective, and I try to have this perspective. There was a lot of compliance. There was a lot of mask compliance, and we can't ever underestimate that. Most people complied, and [sighs] and it was just disappointing when it became political. Again, I said earlier, so fortunate that we have a governor that believes in science, wasn't the case everyplace. And we tried to model that. So at--then at that point, you're just trying to be a good model.

Mandy Higgins 30:40 And I don't remember who, but someone actually made a mask by--was it you? That actually made the mask on a briefing, maybe out of a--

Eric Friedlander 30:49 I don't think I made a mask.

Mandy Higgins 30:50 Okay.

Eric Friedlander 30:50 But no, no, we had one of the nurses from the Department from Public Health came in and showed how to make a mask.

Mandy Higgins 30:58 Yeah. Did you ever make masks?

Eric Friedlander 31:01 I don't know if it's I'm--well, yeah, you know, in an emergency. [laughter]

Mandy Higgins 31:05 Yeah.

Eric Friedlander 31:09 But, you know, the masks came pretty early, we had the camouflage masks. We actually had ordered masks through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. So, we had some KCHIP [Kentucky Childrens Health Insurance Programs] masks and I started wearing those a little bit. Mask up Kentucky and we made some for kids. And those are decent masks, rhey had a little--little nose things that you could put down and those were not bad. I don't know if they were like, you know, N95 worthy.

Mandy Higgins 31:35 Right. [laughing]

Eric Friedlander 31:35 I don't know if that was the case, but they're, you know, double, double fabrics. So they were not bad. So, we just started wearing them. And people started making masks, right? Lots of people made masks, my wife made masks and friends of ours made masks. So, I had some very stylish masks, you know, something else to accessorize with, right?

Mandy Higgins 31:54 Yeah. [laughter]

Eric Friedlander 31:56 --I'm not sure I paid a whole lot of attention to that, but I tried. My wife did.

Mandy Higgins 32:00 Yeah [laughing]

Eric Friedlander 32:01 But, so you know, to, to walk into stores. Right? The little that we did to see folks on the street wearing masks? That was gratifying, because most people listened.

Mandy Higgins 32:19 Umhmm. Yeah, our--the interviews we've done with the mask makers have been a lot of that. We got calls, we knew people needed them--

Eric Friedlander 32:27 Right.

Mandy Higgins 32:27 --They could't find them. So we started making masks.

Eric Friedlander 32:29 Right

Mandy Higgins 32:29 And they have talked a little bit about the surprise in seeing their masks. So were you sent masks or?

Eric Friedlander 32:29 Oh, yeah.

Mandy Higgins 32:29 Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about that.

Eric Friedlander 32:42 So, we did get sent masks, right, And the governor's office often got sent masks. And that was--really it was, at that point, you were starting to see some--some turbulence. Right, and so when folks would reach out with those really nice gestures, it was so helpful. It was like, you know, it was a bomb, right? And that was--it was something that, that you knew you weren't alone, you knew folks were appreciate--we were appreciating what we were trying to do. I think there were macaroni governors and, and Virginia's, that came in at some point. I mean, it's just really cool stuff. And so those kind of--that kind of suppor, that kind of out pouring of support, physical demonstrations of support, they really meant a lot.

Mandy Higgins 33:44 Can you talk a little bit about other gifts that you received?

Eric Friedlander 33:49 Sure. I think I got one of those, you know, the governor got one of his mug things, I got one of those mug things. I got masks. I got just some nice cards, which was always really good. Somehow, you know, I don't know what it is, but always--I always--have I was--I would be having a pretty bad day for some--one reason or another and then a card would come. And it was like, phew, I needed that. And I can't tell you how often it just like came at the perfect time.

Mandy Higgins 34:26 --You mentioned that you're not a rock star like the governor or like Dr. Stack.

Eric Friedlander 34:32 No. [laughing]

Mandy Higgins 34:33 But, do you feel like you've become--that you lost a little of an anonymity or you became a bit of a local celebrity?

Eric Friedlander 34:40 No. [laughter]

Mandy Higgins 34:43 People don't stop you on the street?

Eric Friedlander 34:43 --It's very rare that that happens. And I'm fine with that. Because you know, half the time, you know, they'll remember me from--from the Andy show and the other half the time I got little kids coming up to me thinking I'm a Santa Claus. So one of the two, I accept both, so. [laughter]

Mandy Higgins 35:02 Yeah, we--when we talked to Dr. Sack, he mentions the like--sort of shock

Eric Friedlander 35:07 Yeah.

--Of becoming a star.


Mandy Higgins 35:11 But, the ways that human beings responded--

Eric Friedlander 35:15 He had more of that.

Mandy Higgins 35:16 Yeah.

Eric Friedlander 35:17 He really did I mean, almost all positive and a little negative.

Mandy Higgins 35:22 Yeah. And did you receive any of the negative?

Eric Friedlander 35:26 I really didn't. Occasionally, you could tell when somebody was, you know, squinting their eyes at you a little more, they didn't wanna talk to you or, you know, they'd see you in mask and you know, who is this? [laughter] But, that was, [sighs] that was rare. That was rare.

Mandy Higgins 35:44 So why, you know all of this coming around is the quilts, which we saw downstairs, if you remember, made out of--

Eric Friedlander 35:54 I do wanna say this, occasionally, we'd get negative calls at the Cabinet. Now, the folks who answered the calls, would screen them, and not let them get to us. So, there were folks on the front lines, answering phones, and taking flak, and taking flak, really, for the folks who were trying to do the work. So, you know, we always talk about Team Kentucky or I talk about Team CFH--S. But it does, it takes a whole team to support folks. The person who's the really the administrative assistant to Dr. Stack, fielded a whole bunch of just nasty calls, right? And the folks who are in the ombudsman's office of the Cabinet fielded a whole bunch of nasty calls, and really, in many ways, shielded some of us from the worst of it. And I know folks don't think I recognize that sometimes. But, it takes an entire team to make it work. And that's the kind of thing that goes unrecognized, you know, that--the folks who are just like, on the frontlines and making a difference for everybody and allowing folks to feel that support and not feel the negative and they're taking it themselves, that's why we talk about trauma and resilience, right? Everybody in the Cabinet, that I know of, and I think everybody in state government, right, had experiences like that, where they--where they had to be a part of a team, like maybe hear something negative, right? Ah, we do it--you know, and so, and yeah, right. Being a part of that team and being supportive, and that was everybody, right? So--I don't want that to go unrecognized.

Mandy Higgins 37:49 Yeah.

Eric Friedlander 37:49 Because, I think it does sometimes.

Mandy Higgins 37:51 How did you support your staff as they were supporting you?

Eric Friedlander 37:55 Right. So, I tried to communicate, taking my cue from the governor, right? You can't communicate too much. And so, I've tried to do that with different ways of communicating, I started podcasts, I did videos, I did some pieces in a newsletter, I did some direct email, because different people read different things, and we had a lot of traumatic events during that time, it wasn't just COVID, we, you know, I mean, stuff was happening in Louisville, it almost made me glad to be at the Cabinet in a worldwide pandemic. But you know, we had a lot of things go on. And so, trying to keep everybody focused on the work and bought into the fact that, that we had a mission. And we had a job to do, and we had fellow folks-- fellow Kentuckians to support and keeping that focus, and the importance of what we were doing, and so that people could--could--could know that they were making a difference. And that's--I tried to communicate that a lot and still try to.

Mandy Higgins 38:56 Yeah, this is a little out of bounds of the--

Eric Friedlander 38:58 That's okay.

Mandy Higgins 39:00 --What I asked you to come talk about--

Eric Friedlander 39:01 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 39:01 --But, in that same time, there's been a push for more equity and pay for a number of your Cabinet members and a lot of focus within the Cabinet--

Eric Friedlander 39:13 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 39:13 --To make sure that they are being supported. Do you think that your role in COVID helped make that more seen?

Eric Friedlander 39:20 This is a whole different discussion.

Mandy Higgins 39:22 It is.

Eric Friedlander 39:22 But [laughter] and--this will wrap around the to bear. So, social workers always said that they felt retaliated against, right? And I said earlier, one of we--we talk about folks--our mission helping folks and communities live to their full potential. And we do that with what we call our five pillars, you might call them values. The first was equity. And we were focusing on equity, we were focusing on racial equity, we were focusing on you know, equity across the board. Our second big pillar was resilience, right? This was before COVID, by the way, this is right--right when I came in, and resilience really was, because when I left the Cabinet, something that I really regretted was that we never dealt with secondary trauma in the workforce. Social workers, we've never dealt with secondary trauma, what on earth? I felt really bad when I left. So when I--coming back, I was determined, right? Because the resilience work, just highlighted how important the trauma work is, right? Absolutely critical and what the Cabinet does, absolutely critical--economic support. So I'm gonna go through all five, [laughter] because we don't talk about our programs, and enough about what they do, but the pandemic, wow, you know, we got to talk about SNAP, we got to talk about Medicaid and how important they were. Everybody all of a sudden understood how important childcare was fantastic, right? And--and what that meant, not only to the folks who receive benefits, but SNAP, how much that's supported grocers, Medicaid, again, I've talked about hospitals and doctors and nurses, and that's who it supported.

And I tried to say that in the--in the press conferences, right? I was trying to make that point, don't feel bad about this, you are helping--you're helping your community by doing this. And then talking about how to get to health and wellness, right, unless you have those--three, right? And the ubiquitous because we wanna be operational--operational excellence. [laughter] But you know, it was really a lens through which we did all our work. So resilience and social workers, get that back (??) Because we were talking about being resilient, how do you talk about that? Unless part of that is being able to speak up for yourself. And social workers forever have said, "if we say anything, we're gonna get retaliated against," and tried to send the message of--I think we did. Marta Miranda-Straub, who's the Commissioner of the Department for Community Services did a great job of communicating. But you get that--part of resilience is being able to advocate for yourself, how can you advocate for your clients if you can't advocate for yourself? --I don't get it. So, the social workers really took that up, you know, like, don't you state it, you can't use State email, you can't, you know, nothing to that. But they themselves advocated.

So, I've got two things that sit on my desk that I'm really-- probably the things that are [sighs] bringing the most emotion out in me. One is this, this, this thing that the National Association of Social Workers gave me for being supportive of the social workers and really applauding their advocacy, right? It's really, that's what I came back to hopefully try to do, and that was really emotional. And so that is one of two things on my desk, right? The other is the patchwork bear.

Mandy Higgins 43:07 Yeah, tell me a little bit about the patchwork bear.

Eric Friedlander 43:09 [laughing] So ohana, which means family, and the reason they sent was because, you know, I really was talking about SNAP and food security and what was happening with all of that. So got some wonderful note[s], right, from the folks who did the quilt. And they said, "this is for you, and thank you for for supporting us and supporting families." And, like, again, it just came at a great time, because you know, the grind of--the daily grind of COVID and trying to respond had really started to--masks, no masks, we were starting to really fight. And so for that to come at that time, and to really focus in on what else the Cabinet does, right, which was a lot of what I was talking about, was just--really felt so supportive. And ma--yeah, that's--that's a place of honor. And so like when I Zoom or Teams, it's something that you can see in the background.

Mandy Higgins 44:18 Yeah, that's incredible. Is that--do you remember what any of the pieces they made?

Eric Friedlander 44:27 Oh, yeah.

Mandy Higgins 44:27 Could you share it (??) [laughing]

Eric Friedlander 44:28 So yeah, so I can read it.

Mandy Higgins 44:32 That would be great.

Eric Friedlander 44:32 Would that be okay?

Mandy Higgins 44:33 Yeah.

Eric Friedlander 44:33 But, I need my glasses because I'm old. [laughter] We established that, I've been working as long as you're alive. I'm not gonna let you forget that. [laughing] There we go. [reads letter] Dear Mr. Friedlander, I'm Gina Hudson, founder of the Kentucky Mask Makers Quilt Group, and I'd like to introduce you to your new friend, Ohana. Ohana is made from leftover quilt squares that were not--that we were not able to be included in either the Kentucky Mask Makers Quilt or its companion scrapbook. Since there were a few squares left from the project, we wanted to use every square in some way. We decided we could use them best as bears for some very special people who have helped raise up Kentuckians. We hope you feel all the love, which I did, stitched in the quilt, when you look at Ohana. We all know that Ohana means family, Ohana. The bears' details feature bright, playful colors representing families and children her fresh fruit masks, she had a mask, as a thank you for all you do to help those who may be experiencing food insecurity. Thank you for all you have done for Kentucky, may you and your family be safe and blessed. Sincerely, Regina Hudson, and the Kentucky Mask Makers Quilt Group. And so that was just--that was really sweet. And like I say, came at a time when--when controversy was really kicking up, and to feel that support was wonderful. I actually was in D.C. with the AIDS Quilt, right? And one of those times that it made it to D.C., and I think it was the first time. So you know, the whole symbolism around the quilt and the squares and the importance of that and the love that goes into that, and the remembrance that goes into that. I was really touched by it.

Mandy Higgins 46:55 It's a really powerful piece. Do you see it in the Capitol on tour?

Eric Friedlander 46:58 Yes.

Mandy Higgins 46:59 Yeah. Can you--do you remember any feelings around it being at--hanging in the Capitol?

Eric Friedlander 47:04 Well, um, again, you know, I was relating to it, off of the AIDS quilt. And so, to see it there and--to know that it was community support and represented community support. It was--it was really, how to put it? [sighs] I don't know how else to say [it]. But, to feel that support at a time when we weren't sure what that support--where that support was, was just--was reassuring and comforting.

Mandy Higgins 47:41 Do you--sorry.

Eric Friedlander 47:45 It's okay.

Mandy Higgins 47:46 --Restate the question. [laughter] So, you had that reassurance? You worked for Kentucky for a long time?

Eric Friedlander 47:53 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 47:54 Those--all 37 years, was it, for Kentucky?

Eric Friedlander 47:56 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 47:57 That's incredible. What have you learned about Kentuckians that you didn't know--

Eric Friedlander 48:03 Hmm.

Mandy Higgins 48:03 --Prior to the pandemic?

Eric Friedlander 48:04 Hmm. I don't know, as I didn't know it. So, I've been fortunate in my time in state government, to work for a whole bunch of different agents [agencies]. I got to--I was over family resource centers for a while, I was over--acting over behavioral health--I call myself the utility infielder for the Cabinet for many years. [laughter] And so the [sighs], I know that there are a lot of good folks out there--that have a heart to help, particularly some of the programs I was working on, family resource centers. I mean, those folks are amazing and community-oriented. And, and, and pull from the community, for folks to--to help and are not afraid to ask. And when they do--when we asked for help, in communities, people stepped forward. When I was with the city for four years, I was with the city, we had the senior meals program there. So, it was all run by volunteers. I mean even folks in Louisville are nice, and I know the rest the state probably doesn't believe it. [laughter]

But, it was all run by volunteers, except for like the, you know, people who were responsible [for] the contracts and things like that, and marking the routes, but it--just an amazing program of folks that come together. And you can see it in--whenever we had some disasters. One of my--one of my favorite family resource center stories, we were doing an orientation, we had an orientation in Nancy, Kentucky and we were driving and taking people around to different centers. There's a truck in front of us that had not tied their load down. Well, it was all a bunch of wood that just--they took off and it all fell out in the street, I was with family resource centers. We stopped the car, ran out, helped him load up, tied it down better, and got back in the car and went. I mean, that's kind of--that's kind of the help that I've seen all across the state with, with people who are willing to pitch in. Oh, my gosh, the--the tornadoes and that the amount of volunteerism that occurred. And the support that people gave each other, is just amazing. I did a podcast with a social worker who, the governor mentioned her in his State of the Commonwealth address, she--the tornado just missed her. And the road was cut off, and she went out and basically rescued thirteen people and had somebody pass in her arms. I mean it's just, there are those kinds of stories of individual courage, resilience, right? They're all over the place, and if we look for the best in people, we can find it. And that's--sometimes I focus on that, when I have my feet underneath me, right, and don't get buffeted by all the negative stuff. There's a lot out there when you ask folks to help that they're willing to do.

Mandy Higgins 51:07 Can you talk about the volunteering around the vaccine.

Eric Friedlander 51:12 Oh, yeah. So, a lot of medical professionals came out and volunteered to help with the vaccine. So, I mean, it was, you know, it was done--the vaccines came out fast, relatively speaking, you know, other vaccines take five, ten years. Oh, what if we were there, right? So, we have a vaccine that's effective and works. It really does work, there are no, there are no tracking devices. [laughter] I guarantee you the tracking device is that little, you know, rectangular thing that we all carry about and call phones, but mostly we use it for words. [laughter] It was amazing, and people were so excited, particularly early, when--when demand outstripped supply, for the first several months, right? How do you roll that out and get that to the most vulnerable populations? And there was a lot of work done there, we identified folks who are homebound, right? We had a lot of programs for people who are homebound, and we identified who they are, and we tried to get vaccines out to them and tried to get them into vaccine--we had a lot of partners. And even you know, private partners, public partners, Kroger was a great partner. Walgreens is a great partner, we had some really good partners, who were very helpful along the way. A lot of the hospitals who were used to handling vaccines and and, you know, Secretary Gray, Jim Gray, did a great job along with us of really--distributing vaccines to where they could be used. And that was a massive rollout, so--it felt like we were doing well.

Mandy Higgins 52:54 Do you remember, you didn't see any of them at clinics, or do you remember the feeling of--as people got shots?

Eric Friedlander 53:03 I was so happy to get a shot. [laughter] I'll just go from--from my like, when is--when can I get one? And for my mom too, right? She was--eighty-nine, right? So getting her a shot, oh it just--it felt right. And it was--I was pretty emotional about it, and seeing people line up at the local health department, right, who all wanted to get shots, and that--and the nurses who were doing that, who were happy to play their part in getting that done I was--like I was saying, there's--there are all these team members, Team Kentucky members who--did so much and you know so the folks--to the folks who were giving the shots, to the folks who were making sure that, you know, the arms got swabbed right and--and directing the traffic in. The all--everybody played a part.

Mandy Higgins 54:02 That's pretty incredible.

Eric Friedlander 54:03 Umhmm. And we'd never done that before.

Mandy Higgins 54:08 No we hadn't--

Eric Friedlander 54:08 --We didn't know how to do any of this, right?

Mandy Higgins 54:10 Yes.

Eric Friedlander 54:10 Everything was a learning experience as we went, no idea how to do any of that. None. [laughter]

Mandy Higgins 54:19 You relied on that--you mentioned you had a number of partners both in state government and out of state government. How did that work for you all logistically?

Eric Friedlander 54:31 So [sighs] gosh Dr. Stack has a great team. And so the coordinating of that, and some folks from the Cabinet who also, great team, particularly around you know, getting--getting services to nursing facilities because that's--that's where the most--they were having the most catastrophic, right outcomes and--and did. --It took coordinating with, when's the vaccine coming in? How many--how many doses are folks getting? What parts of the state needed--. So, it really was this distribution. right? Dr. Stack had somebody with a spreadsheet, right? "Here's how many we're getting, here's how many folks are getting here's--," so we had to keep track of a lot of things together. And they just, they just, it was hard work, but they just did it.

Mandy Higgins 55:33 It was incredible, too, from the other side, but like, I'm a historian.

Eric Friedlander 55:38 Right--you know, a lot. [laughter] We [can] talk about 1918 in a second.

Mandy Higgins 55:45 That's true, we can talk about 1918! So--to sort of watch those decisions being made and the way that they're communicated, and to think about, you know, I was one of those ones that was like, "hw can I jump in line?"

Eric Friedlander 55:59 Yeah, right.

Mandy Higgins 55:59 --To get it. [laughing]

Eric Friedlander 56:00 Right

Mandy Higgins 56:00 But, then also the patience to wait for it. So how, how did it--how did you balance that, the desire for folks--folks who, like me, were just very anxious, and those who knew they needed to wait?

Eric Friedlander 56:17 Right? Well, we tried to communicate, where we were going first, right? We went by age range, which is [sighs], I think it's logical. Look, if you were older, you are far more susceptible to really serious disease, if you had some co-occurring disorder and asthma or something like that, you know, you were far more susceptible to serious disease. So we--we just try--again, I think I said it earlier, so cool to have a governor who believed in science, right? Because the whole way through, we were led by science, and that's, that's exactly--who do we need--who needs it first? And who needs it the most? And that's how we went for distribution.

Mandy Higgins 57:03 It worked.

Eric Friedlander 57:03 Yeah, and it worked.

Mandy Higgins 57:05 I was vaccinated at the [Kentucky] Horse Park.

Eric Friedlander 57:07 Oh, nice.

Mandy Higgins 57:08 The day--a year to the day that I left work.

Eric Friedlander 57:11 Wow.

Mandy Higgins 57:11 it isn't--i'ts my like, my one thing.

Eric Friedlander 57:13 Yeah, that's cool.

Mandy Higgins 57:15 And it was an incredible experience to sit in that, as people were coming through--older and younger and knowing you know, as you now know, I'm thirty-seven. [laughing] So, I was in that, like, do you remember, the New York Times did a graph?

Eric Friedlander 57:29 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 57:30 Of like, when you will get it and I was in the one--

Eric Friedlander 57:32 Right.

Mandy Higgins 57:32 --that was like last.

Eric Friedlander 57:33 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 57:34 About 50,000 of Kentuckians and I was [??] before. Thank you to the governor, for getting me up the list a little bit. And so--

Eric Friedlander 57:40 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 57:43 --Anyway, to sit in those spaces was really incredible.

Eric Friedlander 57:46 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 57:46 Did you have any experience around those mass sites?

Eric Friedlander 57:49 A little bit, the Louisville site. You know, a little bit, but, um, at that point, I have to say, I was still kind of keeping my nose to the grindstone, right? I didn't get--out, it's taken me a long time to even get comfortable to go out and visit. I'm still a little skittish [laughing] I'm--I'm probably, you know, the small c conservative of the group. [laughter] Because, you know, it's just it's, it's, it's still of concern.

Mandy Higgins 58:24 Yeah.

Eric Friedlander 58:24 It's still of concern. I'm vaxed, boosted all that stuff. And so it really--there was--there was, there's a lot to coordinate inside. Because even at that point, we were still trying to get benefits out the door, we had the pandemic EBT piece, which is about, okay, what's--we gotta work with the school systems and that was at DCBs. I'm--Jason Dunn is the hero there. So, coordinating with schools and coordinating with our vendors on cards and coordinating how--when does that get loaded on a card, right? You don't think about that stuff. How are we gonna send it out, the first time we just sent it out to everybody. And then people [were] like, I shouldn't be giving this card, and it was confusing. So okay, well, next time, we'll try a different way. So I mean, we tried probably three iterations of how we got the cards out, maybe four. But it was like, okay, what worked this time, what didn't and what was better, what wasn't? It was my example of, you know, just--just, we need to get this out. And we'll just--we'll deal with the consequences of--if it wasn't perfect later, because, it was more important to act than not. I said this to, actually I think I was in a--I did a video for all Cabinet employees at some point. And I said, "you know, the words--nimble, and Cabinet for Health and Family Services were never used in the same sentence ever, ever, ever. And yet, we were able to be nimble."

Mandy Higgins 59:51 That's an incredible legacy. You mentioned that you're still a little skittish. Can you talk a little bit about coming out?

Eric Friedlander 59:58 Yeah.

Mandy Higgins 59:59 How did that feel and when did you feel like--

Eric Friedlander 1:00:01 [sighs] It was probably slower than most and probably masked a little longer than most. And then I jut--it just--in May, I went to Jazz Fest.

Mandy Higgins 1:00:22 Perfect.

Eric Friedlander 1:00:23 It was great.

Mandy Higgins 1:00:24 It bet it wa--who did you see? Sorry, I'm l a music nerd.

Eric Friedlander 1:00:29 --Okay, there was this guy [lauging] called Dwayne Dopsie, who was a--an accordion player. So what I did was, I didn't go to the main stages, I hung out at the Zydeco stage, and the jazz stage and the blues stage. So, I mean, made the staples, right? I just, I was, you're never going to get the opportunity to do that again. So, but it was an outside venue. So, I felt comfortable, right, but I wore a mask in the bus. I went, I was in a Frenchmen street where all the good---cool music is. I was getting ready to walk in the Spotted Cat. Anyway, it's a jaz--so I was outside the Spotted Cat, and I looked in and it was packed. And I'm like, I can't go in there, right? So that's even this May, right? Picked a--I found a little club, it was great. It was small, they were spacing, they had the doors open, it was--they had the breeze blowing through. "I'm like, I can go in that one." So it was--[sighs]--I still try to be cognizant of where I am, how many people are there? I'm not perfect, nobody's gonna be perfect. So I'm, like I say I'm still just a hare skittish. Well, I won't get in something packed indoors. But, you know, it's time, we have to live our lives. We, you know, I'm still not sure I'm going to an indoor venue yet. But that's really--different people are gonna make different decisions, and it's okay, you get to make different decisions at this point. It is fine, and we all make our individual decisions. Like, yeah--I'm--I'm sixty--over sixty, [clears throat] not thirty-seven. So, I mean, it's a little bit different decision point for me.

Mandy Higgins 1:02:15 Right.

Eric Friedlander 1:02:15 Right. And it's, it's okay, you get--that is what I hope folks know now, is it's okay to wanna get back and have fun and be with people and all that stuff, it's okay, right? It's okay to be a little, I think it's still okay to be a little skittish. But, what I hope we've learned, and I think I've said this a lot, right? I've tried to say this a lot at the press conferences. I've tried to say this a lot. When I've talked to folks is like, if--if this, if COVID has taught us anything, it's that whatever happens to one person in our community, impacts us all. And viruses don't care, they don't care if you're living in a gated community or living under a vidaduct, right? --It's a virus, it doesn't care. So, we need to have care for everybody in our communities. And I mean, you know, I'm Health and Family Services Cabinet. So, of course, I'm gonna think that, but--I wish--I hope we can get that learning out of COVID. I'm not sure we have, but maybe if we remember that, and we keep getting reminded of it. Maybe we'll be able to get there and find our best selves.

Mandy Higgins 1:02:19 Yeah--and this is a--this is a nice way to wrap up in this last question. So we've been asking everyone that we've talked to on that day, so today's July 21st, how are you feeling?

Eric Friedlander 1:03:52 Tired. [laughter]

Mandy Higgins 1:03:55 Well earned--well earned.

Eric Friedlander 1:04:01 Hmm. So, another thing that I've said, is that it's gonna take us twenty years, right? To understand what decisions were right. What were not, what was better, what wasn't, I mean--I've said it quite a few times in here, we were learning as we were going, we were absolutely learning as we were going. But, I know we did the best we could with the information we had. And so, because of that, I have some comfort with what we did. I know we did the best we could. So, for the people that were there, for the times that we were living in, you know, all of that, we were--we honestly were wanting to do what was best for the Commonwealth--for Kentucky. And that's all we were trying to do, and I know that and so, I know my motivations, I know the motivations of Dr. Stack, I know the motivations of the governor, right? What is best for the people of Kentucky, and that's where we started. And that was--that doesn't always happen. I've been working in state government for a long time, and that doesn't always happen. But I know it happened here.

Mandy Higgins 1:05:28 Thank you.

Eric Friedlander 1:05:29 Yeah.

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