It’s hard to believe that at the beginning of 2020, our healthcare system, our country and our world operated in an environment without COVID-19. Just two short years later, I have the honor of serving as chairman of the American Hospital Association, taking over in a much different environment than the pre-pandemic era.
Since the virus’ onset, our nation’s hospitals and health systems—and the dedicated women and men who lead them and staff them—have fought back relentlessly against this once-in-a-century pandemic. Among the many challenges, this has highlighted the need to strengthen our organizations and our workforce.
“The Great Resignation” as it is being called, is something every industry is facing. In healthcare, however, shortages can mean vital services canceled and necessary care not provided. In times of national crisis, our hospitals and health systems are often local hubs of information, support and service, but if we are going to continue to be a beacon of hope in our communities, we need dedicated men and women to continue to pursue careers in healthcare, not want to walk away. This is why we are focused on advocating for the types of change necessary to support the brave men and women working in healthcare today. Changes like helping to pay back student loans, providing childcare and transportation, offering tuition reimbursement and training benefits. Hospitals are also developing new team-based care models that allow healthcare workers from various disciplines and specialties to provide customized, patient-centered care. This allows them to manage medical and social needs across all settings to improve care and enhance professional satisfaction.
We also need to ensure the financial stability of hospitals and health systems in every corner of our country. This pandemic has reminded us that illness knows no demographic boundaries. Over 60 million Americans live in rural areas, and in many of those communities the local hospital is their only option for receiving care. If those hospitals close the harm would be incalculable. Hospitals are no less important in urban areas, where they not only provide vital safety-net care, but during this pandemic have been the foundation of the public health response. If we are going to be prepared for the healthcare challenges of the future, we must ensure that our hospitals and health systems are able to not only survive, but expand.
This pandemic has also showcased the urgent need for continuing innovation. Diseases aren’t defeated in committee hearings, or policy conferences, they are defeated in laboratories. We cannot let up on the push for greater innovation if we are going to overcome future unknown challenges.
Lastly, the most impactful legacy of COVID-19 is a reminder of how connected we all are. If we have learned anything during this pandemic, it is that the health and well-being of my neighbor has a direct effect on my health and well-being, whether that neighbor is on the other side of my block or the other side of the globe. As we just recently finished our annual national celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, I think it only appropriate to use one of his quotes here:
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
This pandemic has exposed health disparities and inequities that have existed in our healthcare system for far too long. Diversity, equity, inclusion and justice aren’t merely social constructs that are limited to the fields of philosophy, politics and religion. They are necessary ingredients in a truly healthy community.
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