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Slowing the Spread

Flerlage helping manage Shawnee County’s COVID-19 response

Derik Flerlage posing

From The Ichabod - Spring 2021
By Breckyn Howley

When Derik Flerlage, as '18, ba ’18, joined the Shawnee County Health Department, it was in the midst of battling one of its most difficult challenges in its history – the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This wasn’t your typical start to a job," Flerlage said. “I immediately had to hit the ground running without any sort of orientation or introduction. Day one people began to turn to me for direction and advice.”

Despite the challenging situation, Flerlage felt well prepared by his previous work in health care, his business background and – of course – his Washburn University education.

Flerlage came to the Shawnee County Health Department in July 2020 after working as the director of admissions and business development at Tanglewood Health and Rehabilitation. He is the infectious disease division manager and deputy COVID-19 operations section chief where he works to control the spread of COVID-19.

“It was a clear choice,” Flerlage said. “As COVID got underway and it started affecting nursing homes, I just kind of felt called to help.”

Flerlage started working immediately to help slow the spread. He analyzed the reports of cases and deaths to determine which groups were being most affected. He also worked to track the epidemiological trends that appeared in an effort to keep ahead of the virus. Flerlage then used this information while working alongside the Shawnee County health officer to build a plan to fight the spread. As deputy COVID-19 operations section chief, he updated the command team and kept elected officials and the media apprised of their plans.

Carrie Delfs, bsn ’07, clinical services division manager for Shawnee County Health Department, helped Flerlage transition into the position.

“He started during a difficult time,” Delfs said. “The workload around COVID was already overwhelming. Processes that had been in place needed to be reworked, and new processes needed to be created to meet the needs of our staff and community. However, Derik’s understanding of public health and the role of the local health department has continued to expand.”

She credited Flerlage’s diverse health care background with easing his transition into the job.

“This was the perfect role for me to blend what I know about the clinical side of things, which would be my health care education, and the business knowledge that Tanglewood helped me develop,” Flerlage said.

Flerlage said his Washburn University education also prepared him by providing a range of experiences that helped him learn to deal with complex problems and fluid situations.

He said Washburn "opens your mind to complex ideas and situations that happen in the world.”

He might not have realized it at the time, but classes such as Current Literature in Kinesiology taught by Associate Professor Park Lockwood set him up for success in his job at the health department.

“What really prepared me for the working world is that the class required you to read research and then discuss it with the group in a way that made sense scientifically,” Flerlage said. “That discussion directly correlates with my career today and I use it daily.”

Flerlage worked the night shift at Stormont Vail Health as a phlebotomist while pursuing his associate's degree in respiratory therapy and bachelor's degree in exercise physiology at Washburn. He began working as a respiratory therapist after graduation but then had the opportunity to enter the administrative side of health care at Tanglewood Health and Rehabilitation.

Flerlage is not only thankful for the education he received at Washburn but appreciative of the constant support the Washburn community provides him.

“Washburn is everything to me,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in my current career without it, there’s no doubt.”

Flerlage is currently working on his master of business administration and plans on continuing further into the administrative side of health care. He hopes to expand access to care to the less fortunate and those who are uninsured, as well as change the delivery of health care.

“Health care in this country needs someone at the top to change the way we think about it in general,” Flerlage said.

The Ichabod Magazine Winter 2022 cover - Memorial Union with snow, pine needles in the foreground

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