Health leaders from three corners of the country reflected on their experiences addressing the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years at the 2022 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference. Discussions on the importance of addressing disparities with data, workforce reform, and more took place at the “How COVID has changed our health care system” panel at last week’s conference.
Joining the conversation was Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Hon. Josh Green, M.D., Health Facilities Association of Maryland President Joe DeMattos, and Beaumont Health, BHSH Spectrum Health West Michigan President Darryl Elmouchi, M.D.
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For Lt. Gov. and gubernatorial candidate Green, dealing with COVID as a smaller state put more pressure on Hawaii’s health systems.
“[Our hospitals] were at 97% capacity before we were going to have to engage in some questions that we did not want to engage on, like crisis standards of care or rationing care,” he said.
Green said keeping a close eye on hospital data and analytics throughout each case surge enabled the state to easily redistribute resources, such as infectious disease specialists, to the facilities most in need.
Although Hawaii’s positive case rate has decreased significantly since the omicron surge in January 2022, Green says longer-term concerns remain. These include the long-term effects after being diagnosed with COVID, critical staffing shortages, impacts on behavioral health and substance abuse, and exacerbated health disparities.
Elmouchi highlighted workforce shortages among BHSH’s health facilities. Although telehealth has been more highly utilized during the pandemic, he said there are some aspects of care that it cannot replace. Elmouchi also called for more cohesion in the health education pipeline.
“There are state licensing boards that are all different and have different requirements,” he said. “There are specialty societies that often denote who can be in what specialty and limit slots … We have so many different limitations at every step, we actually have the longest medical education pathway in the developed world, in spite of no better [health] outcomes.”
Reflecting on COVID’s impact on Maryland’s health systems, DeMattos is thankful for the state’s decision to prioritize seniors during the initial vaccine rollout in December 2020. One of his top concerns going forward, however, is the impending behavioral health crisis brought on by social isolation during the pandemic.
“I’m calling it out so we can begin to work on it together,” DeMattos said. “We will face the biggest pandemic on behavioral health and the impacts of isolation … We’re going to need all hands on deck to work on it.”
Watch the full discussion here.