Have a question regarding DCF and the coronavirus? Email us at: DCF.COVID-19@ct.gov

Erin Ryan - Different People and Different Experiences Lead to Cohesion

LeadershipHuman Resources (HR) - employee issues, consulting with managers about interpreting union contract language, arbitration and labor negotiations - this is work that an HR manager expects to focus on.

Contact tracing in a world-wide pandemic? Not so much.

But Erin Ryan, the Department of Children and Families' assistant Human Resources Director, is now firmly entrenched in that work due to the COVID-19 crisis.

"All that regular HR work took a back seat" when the Department had its first positive COVID test of a staff member in March," said Ms. Ryan, who also is a licensed attorney.

Attorney Erin Ryan, Dr. Nicole Taylor, the Department's Director of Pediatrics, and Yari Ijeh, a Program Director, form the Department's contact tracing team. (See separate articles about Dr. Taylor and Ms. Ijeh in this Spotlight edition.) When the pandemic first hit the state and the Department, Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes and her Executive Team would meet each time a staff person, youth in DCF custody and or foster parent tested positive to discuss next steps related to protecting other staff who may have been exposed, including both person-to-person exposure and the potential for exposure from shared use of office space, equipment and state cars.

family CircleBut as the number of positive staff members mounted, it became apparent that an alternative approach was needed, and the task was given to the 3-person team of Dr. Taylor, Attorney Ryan and Director Ijeh. Ms. Ryan and Ms. Ijeh report to Deputy Commissioner Jodi Hill-Lilly, who said that Ms. Ryan has made a vitally important contribution to the effort.

"Erin's deep knowledge of the intricacies of labor relations and strong relationships with union leadership is so valuable because it helps to guide the decision-making process in a way that respects and supports all staff," said Deputy Commissioner Hill-Lilly.

"In the midst of a state agency centralization of HR functions, a pandemic hits! From Day 1, Erin answered questions, created consistency and was a solid bridge of information to and from DCF's leadership team. She and her team have become expert contact tracers. Moreover, this has guided successful notifications and transmission mitigation strategies. Erin shepherds a firm framework of Department accountability of public service.  We are fortunate to have her committed leadership," stated Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes.

Erin RyanMs. Ryan said the experience of working with Dr. Taylor and Ms. Ijeh on the pandemic has been as rewarding as it has been unexpected. "It's been great," she said. "We are very different people with different experiences, yet it is a cohesive team and we all have a great deal of respect for each other."

She said the team is always available for each other. "I can always pick up the phone and know they will answer," she said of Ms. Ijeh and Dr. Taylor. The burden of long hours and working weekends is not quite as difficult due to the team culture. "Being part of a team really helps to get you through," Ms. Ryan said. 

Frank Gregory, Superintendent of the DCF Solnit South nicknamed this fantastic triad a lighthouse in this fog --- They have provided the direction the Department needed to guide our path.

Ms. Ryan's new immersion into public health has piqued her interest. "I have no background in public health, so I've been learning on the job," said Ms. Ryan, who worked for a utility in Human Resources and labor relations for 10 years before coming to DCF three years ago. "It's been very interesting. I'm finding it fascinating, although I would rather be doing it in circumstances other than a pandemic."