By Liz Engel – Cincinnati Business Courier
Hope is on the horizon when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic, but local health care leaders also stressed there’s plenty of work ahead to curb any resurgence in the virus as the world shifts to find a new normal.
Six of the region’s top health care executives addressed those topics and more during the Business Courier’s “Future of Health Care” roundtable event, held virtually Tuesday morning. The panel overwhelmingly highlighted the region’s efforts at communication and collaboration as highlights while touching on topics like vaccination, health care disparities and telehealth that will continue to dominate conversations in the industry for months to come.
Courier publisher Jamie Smith moderated the event. Panelists included:
- Dr. Stephen Feagins, chief clinical officer at Mercy Health-Cincinnati; medical director of Hamilton County Public Health
- Dr. Tom Lamarre, medical director for infectious diseases at Christ Hospital Health Network
- Dr. Richard P. Lofgren, president and CEO, UC Health, and also zone 3 leader the Gov. Mike DeWine Covid-19 response
- Nerissa Morris, senior VP and chief HR officer, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
- Dr. Robert L. Prichard Jr., executive VP and chief clinical integration officer of St. Elizabeth Healthcare, and CEO/president of St. Elizabeth Physicians
- Dr. Paul Waller, family medicine and urgent care physician with TriHealth Priority Care
The panel largely touched on topics surrounding Covid-19. It’s been one year since the World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic. There’s more calm in the community now as people start to get vaccinated, Waller said, but the panel also said mitigation efforts, like masking and social distancing, should continue.
“Masking, social distancing and [people] not placing themselves in situations where they’re in large groups is still our No. 1 deterrent,” Waller said. “Vaccines is No. 2. We need to be vigilant. We do not want to have variants popping up where we have to have boosters every year for the next five years.”
Telehealth will continue to play a big role in patient care, not only as a primary care solution, Prichard said, but across all specialities, including behavioral health, post-surgical, school health, employee occupational health and more. At St. Elizabeth, he said, about 10-15% of daily visits are now taking place virtually.
“The potential is limitless,” he said.
There are other reasons for optimism, leaders said. Covid-19-related deaths are decreasing. But achieving herd immunity remains difficult, said Lamarre. Not everyone is currently eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, and a certain percentage will decline to be immunized. Mask wearing may also become more of a norm in patient-facing health care settings, he said, for the next two years, even as public mandates begin to wane.
All the health care leaders said the region benefitted from an unprecedented level of communication and collaboration, not just internally inside hospital walls, but between health systems, as well as with the business community and greater community at large. There have been many lessons learned. The pandemic has also exposed weakness: Health care continues to be fragmented, and Covid-19 has also put a spotlight on the disparities that have long existed between communities, especially those Black and brown.
“That can’t be something that came, we saw it, it went by and we moved on. We can’t move on,” Morris said. “We have to lean in and take action. We have to fix the systemic issues, not just the symptoms that we see. There’s a real opportunity for all of us to partner as we’ve collaborated through this pandemic to continue to collaborate for that level of change.”
As far as the pandemic’s end, that’s still hard to predict. Feagins said a key indicator will not be the vaccination rate, but rather the case rate. When Covid-19 cases settle to the approximate rate of the seasonal flu, that will be the biggest indicator the pandemic is coming to a close, he said.
“Will we have a combination influenza and Covid vaccine every fall? Probably,” Feagins said. “Will we, once Covid vaccines become accrued, begin to mandate them as we do with the influenza vaccine? Probably.”
As that happens, Lofgren said it’s important for everyone to acknowledge the human toll: the loss of loved ones due to Covid-19, the chronic anxiety about not knowing what’s next, the loss of a job, of a business, or friends or family.
“It’s at this point we need moments of support and moments of kindness,” Lofgren said. “There’s a lot that we’ve done and a lot that we’ve learned along the way. The thing that really is inspiring for me, I know hope is very much on the horizon.”
The full panel discussion will be printed in the Courier’s April 2 print edition. To view a recording of the conversation, click here. Once you enter your name and email, a pop up will appear.