Health Care Leaders Share COVID-19 Lessons Learned; Look Forward  

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

Distraught health care worker
Health care leaders are cautiously optimistic about West Michigan and the state’s recent COVID-19 mitigation efforts but warn the effects of the pandemic will be felt for some time. Remarks were made during the 2021 West Michigan Health Care Economic Forecast, held virtually on Friday, Jan. 8. Along with a panel discussion focused on COVID-19, findings from the annual Health Check report, a partnership between Grand Valley State University, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network and Priority Health, were presented. Brian Peters, chief executive officer, Michigan Health and Hospital Association, Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president, Spectrum Health West Michigan, Dr. Ronald Grifka, chief medical officer, Metro Health – University of Michigan Health and Hyung Kim, president, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, offered their thoughts on what was learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, what they think will follow and how health care in general has likely been forever altered. “It really felt like we were in the middle of a war, particularly in the beginning of the pandemic,” Elmouchi said. “When this pandemic is done, we have to plan for the next one.” Many agreed that flattening the curve after nearing record-high case counts in December was the result of effective messaging and residents’ adherence to the “big three” as Peters described them: wearing masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing and good hygiene.

Lessons from a pandemic

Health equity was a common theme among panelists. Kim pointed out the disparities in case numbers and deaths from COVID-19 among Black and Latinx populations, noting that more than 63% of deaths in Kent County attributed to COVID-19 for people under age 60 were people of color. “COVID-19 really showed us that people of color are vulnerable to health inequities,” Kim said. Peters credited efforts by the state’s Racial Disparities Task Force for helping close the gap and said the MHA is urging all health systems to put health equity at the forefront. Near the start of the pandemic, Elmouchi said there was a lot of concern over physical resources such as masks, gloves, ventilators and hospital beds. As the health crisis dragged on, he said it quickly became clear that staff resources were also of paramount importance. Keeping health care workers healthy – physically and emotionally – needs to remain a focus moving forward. “The dedication and resiliency of our essential workers is unparalleled,” Grifka agreed.

On the horizon

In addition to health equity, Peters said items top of mind for many health systems across the state include cybersecurity and behavioral health. Rising cases of food insecurity and overdose deaths are also concerns for health care experts. “The opioid epidemic has only been exacerbated by COVID-19,” Peters said. Anxiety and depression are up from where they were pre-pandemic, Elmouchi said, meaning sustained focus and attention will need to be placed on increasing access to behavioral health care. Long-term health effects of COVID-19 are still being studied and discovered and could have ramifications for the health care system for years to come, Grifka said. He also warned that health care put off due to the pandemic, such as cancer screenings, could lead to patients presenting with more severe cases. This could result in a need for more extensive treatments and increased health care costs. “COVID-19 will have medical ramifications for years,” Grifka said. 

Learn more about West Michigan health trends

The full Health Check report can be found here. It sheds light on broad health care trends related to opioid use and deaths, suicides, mental health, general health and risk factors and access to care, comparing the West Michigan region comprised of Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan, or KOMA, counties to the Detroit region, made up of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. A recording of the panel discussion and report findings will also be posted here by Jan. 15. Related:
Photo credit: Juanmonino
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