Blue Cross CEO: Pandemic upends lives but supports change in Michigan
One year ago, on March 24, 2020, sobering proof the coronavirus would change our lives came when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Stay Home, Stay Safe Executive Order, announcing we should only leave our homes to perform essential jobs or go to the grocery store or hospital.
A once-in-a-lifetime pandemic arrived, affecting us all. In the past year, more than 500,000 lives were lost, including more than 16,000 in Michigan — and health disparities became even more obvious. An economic downturn threatened incomes. Those fortunate to be employed operated in new and unusual environments. Parents grappled with caring and educating schoolchildren. Many people faced challenges to obtain necessities and cleaning products. Traditional celebrations and funerals were delayed. We weren’t able to visit with family and friends in order to keep everyone safe.
Reflecting on the past year brings mixed emotions. The death toll from this pandemic will always be staggering. Yet, the resilience of Michiganders stands out and continues to fuel optimism for the future. We are grateful to the frontline and essential workers for their critical support that ensured health care, basic goods and services were available. This includes employees at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, where claims continued to be processed every day and calls from our members never stopped being answered.
UNITING FOR CHANGE
It’s also inspiring to remember how quickly many of us came together to address the wide-ranging challenges associated with the pandemic. Practices such as wearing a mask and social distancing — previously unheard of in our daily lives — became common and helped to save lives. Important social issues kept on the backburner for far too long were exacerbated and are finally being addressed, including racial injustices and health disparities. The isolation many experienced during the pandemic led to a growing awareness of the importance of protecting our mental health and that the false stigma surrounding mental health awareness and needs can no longer be a barrier to asking for and receiving help.
The availability of vaccines is increasing. So, it’s tempting to say we’re reaching the light at the end of the tunnel. However, we can’t afford to celebrate until widespread vaccination is achieved. That’s why I urge everyone to take advantage of your opportunity to receive a vaccine as soon as possible. It’s critical to protect your health and your communities, and it will lead us all to a brighter future.
Daniel J. Loepp is president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.