As an agency entirely focused on life sciences and health care clients, Toronto-based Klick Health has experienced the coronavirus pandemic differently than most.
Many of its clients are on the front lines, working around the clock treating patients and looking for therapeutic solutions or a vaccine. Klick just feels closer to the fight, and from the very early days, many of its 1,000 employees have been thinking about ways they can provide support.
“It will be a long time before we have a victory day parade down the streets of Toronto or New York or anywhere in the world, but I’m pretty confident that when we do, it will be doctors and nurses that are celebrated for how they held the line—how they conquered the scariest common enemy that civilization has ever confronted,” said Leerom Segal, Klick co-founder and chair. “I think that’s why we as a group decided that we needed to do our part, knowing that our clients will ultimately be the solution.”
Early on, Klick created a hub on its website to share everything it has done in response to the crisis—from safety measures taken to protect staff, to the various projects it is has launched or collaborated on, such as HowsMyFlattening, and COVIDNearYou.
Last month, the agency sourced and donated 400,000 masks to hospitals and long-term care facilities around the GTA, and, working with Dr. Steven Bernstein from Humber River Hospital in Toronto, made and delivered nearly 1,000 intubation boxes that are placed over patients during the intubation process—one of the most dangerous tasks for doctors and nurses treating patients with the disease.
The Message spoke with Segal about what the past few months have been like at his agency.
For Klick the virus was a concern earlier than it was at most agencies, because of its involvement with HealthMap.org, which tracks disease outbreaks all over the world. “We started to see some of the data from Wuhan, and we had the opportunity to really take that apart,” he said. “If there’s one thing that our team knows how to interpret and understands very well, it’s an exponential curve.”
Throughout February they moved quickly to review their continuity plans and take additional steps to reduce risks for their employees—including shutting down their cafeteria. Though some in the industry thought Klick was overreacting, by early March they had transitioned to working from home.
“And almost immediately—this is the energizing part—almost immediately, our people knew that they were okay, and we started to see this wave of ideas around how we can support other initiatives or how we can contribute to other causes,” said Segal.
How so? “Our team has been spending a lot of time basically running internal hack-a-thons, soliciting ideas for various topics and trying to just keep our pulse on what’s happening in other parts of the world.”
And that’s where the intubation boxes came from? “It was actually an idea that was created by a Taiwanese doctor, and they had much better results in terms of lower infections in the hospitals that had deployed this innovation,” said Segal.
But the Klick team needed to update models for North America (they had to be bigger, for example) and figure out a way to produce them quickly and safely. “The net result was that we were able to very rapidly manufacture and donate over 1,000 of those boxes.”
How quickly? “We went from idea to first prototype [in less than] 24 hours,” he said. Over the course of a single weekend in late March, the team addressed infectious disease controls and sterilization protocols. “By Monday the prototype that we had was already getting approved by Humber River Hospital.”
What about the masks? Klick had been working on PPE sanitation and re-use projects before the crisis started, but it became clear early on that there was an urgent shortage. “As soon as we learned that, we decided that we’re going to do our part,” he said.
The breakthrough moment came when Klick was approached by Robert Schwartz, the Toronto-based CEO of the automotive parts business Wa-Lin Trading. “This individual said he had a line on these [masks] and very quickly, we needed to develop a couple of protocols for validating the legitimacy of the certificates associated with the masks.”
When the masks were verified, Segal and Klick co-founder and COO Aaron Goldstein decided they would donate enough money “for as many masks as we could get our hands on, and that happened to be 400,000,” he said.
“We’re trying to purchase more. That’s not a place where I think Klick had any unique skills, what we had was the conviction that we needed to do our part and contribute, and in this case contribution was mostly financial.”
How much time are spending on these kinds of projects? “I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a team of people that are a lot smarter and a lot more experienced than myself, so the business is operating incredibly well,” he says. “While myself and the majority of our lab team, and some of our applied sciences team, and others are almost full time on finding ways we can contribute.”
Photo: Humber River Hospital.