Since President Trump declared a national emergency in March 2020, COVID-19 has become commonplace in our daily lives. From lockdowns to mask mandates, school closures to restrictions on health care. From businesses shuttering their doors to having to get permission slips to attend church on Sunday. From planning for joyful beginnings in weddings to preparing for sorrowful goodbyes in funerals.  

Currently, the Delta variant is on the rise at the same time there are increases in vaccination rates. 

What have we learned from the last 18 months? In what ways can we infuse “care” in health care as we continue to face this pandemic?

We must protect the most vulnerable, including our elderly.  

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo implemented a policy that required nursing homes to take back COVID-19 hospital patients who had been discharged from hospitals. The Cuomo administration underreported nursing home COVID deaths by up to 50%

The actual loss of life from COVID-19 was closer to 15,000 residents and employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Cuomo still has not taken accountability and recently resigned from office over sexual assault allegations. 

What happened in New York is the definition of a modern-day tragedy and the FBI is investigating. This costly policy should not be repeated or replicated elsewhere.

Continued healthcare workforce demands mean that more reform is needed.

With the rise of COVID-19 in fall 2020, hospitals in 25 states reported a lack of nurses, doctors, and other staff. These shortages also had an impact on hospitals postponing elective surgeries. My family member had a surgery delayed several days after hospital admittance. It was extremely frustrating and heart-wrenching to helplessly watch my loved one have to wait for surgery and continue to be in pain with no sound explanation from hospital staff.  

Unfortunately, the shortage of medical professionals, especially in rural America, dates back to well before the demands of the pandemic.  By 2024, the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates shortages upwards of 124,000 in both primary and specialty care.  

The breakdown of these estimates is between 17,800 and 48,000 primary care physicians (e.g. family medicine, general pediatrics, geriatric medicine) and between 21,000 and 77,100 non-primary care physicians (e.g. specialists like infectious disease and cardiology).  

To help with current and potential increases in healthcare demands, states should rethink how to attract the next generation of physicians, including to places like rural America.  Attracting kids to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, including computer science) subjects and fields can help too. 

Another study suggests that by 2025, the U.S. will likely face 446,300 in-home health aides and 29,400 in nurse practitioners shortages. 

States should consider reforming the scope of practice laws to help with practitioner demand and increase access to care, especially for low-income families. An example of such a law is expanding a pharmacist’s scope of practice to include point of care testing for and treatment of certain health conditions.  

Several states have pending legislation that could positively impact access and care, key ingredients in quality health care. 

People need people when they’re sick. 

During the early months of COVID-19, we saw many restrictions. One example was hospital visitation policies, many not allowing any visitors. Can you imagine being a sick patient and just being dropped off at the hospital without someone coming in with you? My loved one lived it and so did my family and I. What’s more, many Americans passed away all alone without being able to have a loved one or a person of their choosing with them. This is not health care.

Pandemic or not, restrictions on patients having visitors should not be repeated. At the very least, use technology, such as tablets, to connect families near and far. Not just in hospital or doctor settings, COVID-19 demonstrated the importance of human connection and community.  

We owe it to our loved ones to learn from these and other lessons.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), 614,846 Americans have succumbed to the disease, greater than the population of Baltimore or Milwaukee. On the global level, the COVID-19 death count is almost 4 million people.  

Each one of us has either had a loved one or someone they know directly or indirectly impacted by the policies that were put into place during COVID-19. It is imperative that we as a nation and world look at the lessons learned and keep them in mind as we collectively battle this pandemic.

All people deserve individualized, high-quality, care-centered health care that fully supports the dignity and value of all lives.