Covid-19 and the Health of the Healthcare System
I co-wrote this blog with my wife, Liz who is a Family Nurse Practitioner in a small clinic outside Little Rock. She’s been practicing for 12 years.
COVID-19 has shown itself to be no respecter of persons or healthcare systems. People across the world, people with different social and economic status find themselves just as likely to be impacted. Star basketball players, movie stars and politicians find themselves contracting it alongside the poor, marginalized and unknown. Unfortunately, from there the similarities begin to end. COVID-19 has laid bare some of the faults of our healthcare system.
In the 21st century, we have become comfortable with the idea that “modern medicine” can solve almost anything. I (Liz) spend a lot of time in my work trying to help those with chronic diseases understand the ways they can be proactive in improving their diseases and reducing risks of complications, but I often hear “I’ll just go to the hospital if it gets bad”. As a society we like our independence and our freedoms, but we tend not to spend a lot of time worrying about consequences until we or someone we love is affected. Responsibility tends to be more about personal preference rather than the good of the whole.
This unprecedented health crisis we find ourselves in, has illuminated the healthcare system’s weak links in dealing with consequences and priorities. The powers that be asked all clinics to begin testing for COVID 19 last week but they had no way to supply those clinics with appropriate protective equipment for their staff. The general guidelines say “Stay home, unless you get really sick then go to the hospital” but have we asked ourselves, “Can the hospital safely take care of the sick? And have we supported them to do so?” Everyone wants to know that if they show up in the emergency room with difficulty breathing that all available resources are there to end that horrifying nightmare. But this cannot and does not happen without investment and structure to that healthcare system. Healthcare workers are used to operating in the mindset that each of our patients is someone’s brother, mother, grandfather, daughter, sister, son, etc. And to do this when you have no shared values, faith, principals, life-choices, or much other than being members of the human race in common. Right now healthcare workers are having to make very difficult decisions like reusing their protective equipment which could ultimately make more patients and themselves sick, having to decide who gets ventilators and who doesn’t, trying to decide if keeping their job is worth risking becoming ill and possibly spreading it to their family. Right now doctors around the world are having to place a value on people’s lives and distribute resources accordingly and then have to live with that decision.
We love to value and applaud our workers in many professions that risk their own safety for ours… but how do we show that love beyond donuts and Facebook recognition? If we have health insurance, financial resources, are younger or healthier, we generally are confident that our needs will be met and assume that anything less than that is criminal. Truth be told, as a society we haven’t been mindful of the other. We seem to only be mindful when we are impacted – when we want OUR healthcare. Thus people can ignore recommendations to stay away from others if it doesn’t impact them. There are no worries for how the worker without health insurance will pay for that emergency surgery. There’s little concern on how someone on a fixed income will afford their medication. Or how the single mom with a sick kid can care for her child AND not lose her job. This crisis has caused us to assess the health of the healthcare system now that we are ALL simultaneously at its mercy.
But the truth be told, many don’t have to worry about those questions because it doesn’t impact them. It’s out of sight and out of mind because they have access and resources. But, what would it be like if we always treated the poor, marginalized, elderly and unknown the same way in our health system as basketball players, movie stars and politicians? As followers of Jesus, shouldn’t that be our goal? Shouldn’t we be concerned for the health of those we know and those we don’t? Should we even offer prayers for healing if we aren’t willing to work towards creating a health system that is central to the healing process and that everyone has equal access to? After all, God does call us to love our neighbor as ourselves and let’s be honest COVID-19 has reminded us of the truth that EVERYONE wants a healthy healthcare system but not all have access to one.
Chris and Liz