In the weeks that have seemingly passed very slowly, we have learned these five things relatively quickly from being in public health emergency.
1. Bureaucracy impedes emergency response. Our governmental infrastructure is simply clunky in overly complicated ways. The best intentions behind legislative acts and executive orders have been gummed up by administrative and bureaucratic processes at both federal and state levels. The very system designed to appropriately bestow power has proven impotent amidst the public health emergency.
2. Policy has been out of sync. In a day when people carry around more technology in the palm of their hands than was used to land on the moon, it took COVID-19 to demonstrate that healthcare policy, which drives both reimbursement and access to care, has been running in last place.
3. People are always our best resources. When state and federal stockpiles of PPE came up short, every little old lady (myself included) came to the rescue by pulling out sewing machines and scrap fabric in an effort reminiscent of WWII bandage-making. Likewise, local restaurateurs have kept our COVID units fed even when their own businesses have been shuttered. Acts of charity and kindness, both big and small, have supported healthcare professionals on the front line. It has been a win for humanity.
4. Culture undergirds strategy. Organizations that are team-oriented and encourage collaboration have been more nimble than rigid top-down driven healthcare systems. Any effective emergency response relies not only on skill and training but also on innovation and mission. A healthy culture will stay grounded even when forced to color outside the lines.
5. Our reality has changed. Uncertainty and inconvenience have altered our sense of reality. The perception that we, as a society and as an industry, were unalienable has crumbled. Focusing on the greater common good and acknowledging past vulnerabilities will certainly shape more robust leadership as we move forward.
Of the lessons learned, the ones which have impacted us to our core will be what fuels survival and restored viability. Some of the challenges will remain out of our direct control. For those we will be forced to remain reactive. However, the things that are in our control—how we adjust, lead and serve—can be a positive impetus for any healthcare organization rising from the ashes.