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COVID-19 Town Hall: Ford Motor Company’s Medical Director Dr. Francesca Litow

April 19, 2021

Ford Motor Company has been a leader in COVID-19 mitigation efforts since April 2020. In addition to being one of the first manufacturers to pivot toward making personal protective equipment, Ford has been a forerunner in implementing successful return-to-work safety protocols and on-site vaccination for employees. Dr. Francesca Litow, medical director of global occupational health services at Ford, shared more about the company’s medical policies, programs, and procedures to #FinishStrong in the battle against COVID-19.

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge across Michigan, Litow shared three contributing factors to this trend:

  1. Variants: The B.1.1.7 variant has been particularly prevalent in Michigan, and though it doesn’t seem to make people sicker, it is proving much more contagious.
  2. Increased activities and gatherings: People are doing more things that they weren’t in the fall and winter, like attending school in person, eating out, and gathering socially more.
  3. Travel: Travel has picked up significantly recently, and especially with Detroit’s international airport hub, more people from different places are mingling with each other, increasing the risk for spread.

Key To Successfully Navigating The Virus: Putting Employee Wellness And Safety First

Despite these recent trends, Ford and the automotive industry have found successful strategies for dealing with the virus. Litow cited two foundational components of this response.

“Everything we do has always been done with the premise that the safety of our employees is the most important thing,” said Litow. The next factor was the need to keep running manufacturing plants for business viability.

Ford also worked closely with a network of partners like the UAW, local and state government leaders, suppliers, OEMs, and a host of leading medical experts.

“Although we have a well-trained team of medical experts and safety professionals, we also look to external experts to learn about best practices,” said Litow.

Ford’s COVID-19 playbook prepared employees for what it would be like to return to work and clearly outlined medical and safety procedures for keeping the workplace safe. This document was informed by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state health department orders so it can be applied to other businesses.

Engaging Employees Amid Evolving Guidance

As the virus’ status and guidance continue to rapidly change, Litow does daily “environmental scans” to ensure the team has the latest information and most effective, timely recommendations. The Ford team’s multi-disciplinary approach also makes keeping up with best practices amid evolving conditions more productive, engaging medical and safety, human resources, legal, and labor affairs and operations departments to inform policy.

This pandemic has drastically blurred the lines between professional and personal life and impacted the way people are able to achieve balance and cope with this added stress.

“Recognizing the need to focus on employee well-being and all of our well-being is really important to promoting people’s health and productivity,” said Litow.

She advises paying attention to and reminding people to keep up with their medical wellness and manage medications, health conditions, annual doctor and dental visits, etc., and connecting them to available wellness resources. Encouraging healthy lifestyle practices like staying active and getting outdoors while the weather improves are also helpful ways to keep employees feeling good.

A key part of this wellness is encouraging employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. For those combatting vaccine hesitancy, Litow recommends “meeting people where they’re at.”  For some, that means sharing information about the vaccines themselves, and for others, it’s about sharing resources for how to get an appointment.

#FinishStrong Campaign

“Ford has always been at the forefront of stepping up in times of need,” said Litow. They manufactured iron lungs during the polio epidemic and became the Arsenal of Democracy during WWII. This time around, they offered support by generating life-saving personal protective equipment and medical supplies to help those on the frontlines fighting the pandemic. That sense of service led to the campaign to encourage everyone to stay strong in safety precautions to help finally bring the pandemic to an end.

Additional Resources:

General COVID-19 information: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

Resources for workplaces and businesses: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/workplaces-businesses/index.html