Becoming Wiser

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Albert Einstein

Since COVID-19 began affecting my life, this fool has resisted adding to the items I have posted on this site. Instead, I have tried to understand the dynamics of this interesting and disconcerting time.

My life has changed and not for the better. It has been weeks since I have seen my seven grandchildren even though they live close by. I have been told over and over again in the media that because I am over a certain age I am fragile. I think the word is stamped on my forehead.

Because my daily exercise must now come from fast walks around the neighborhood rather than in a gym, I have to watch out for rattlesnakes in my path while I try to not be fragile. I am considering getting a Peloton exercise bike but the video instructors seem dauntingly fit and I am not.

I get excited when my wife and I go out to lunch occasionally by going through the drive-thru at Chik-fil-A and then finding a remote spot in the parking lot to eat. Sort of like high school.

Things have changed dramatically as well in healthcare. Politicians no longer seem concerned about price transparency, an issue I have always thought was more hype than real at least here in California. Now the number of ventilators and the supply of personal protective equipment consumes elected leaders.

Governors are elbowing each other to get on cable news programs. You can see New York tough and California cool everyday. Other healthcare related issues once thought to be important have disappeared because of a virus.

Hospitals and the people who work within them are now hailed by the pols as heroes and heroines rather than the source of wasted expenditures. They have always been worthy of praise but maybe COVID-19 is helping people to remember that. I hope that memory lingers on after the pandemic itself becomes a memory.

A pandemic reorients viewpoints and issue priorities. Maybe the fools are beginning to understand the fragility of healthcare institutions and public health. One can hope.

I have come to understand some issues that we within healthcare must become wiser about. We have allowed ourselves to worship without regard to consequences at the altar of reducing costs. That is how we find ourselves at the mercy of a totalitarian country which produces most of the basic supplies like masks and gowns used in healthcare facilities. We need to be willing to spend a little more so that other countries including our own are encouraged to produce such necessities. That’s called spreading the risk.

We need to reconsider in hospitals how staffing patterns are determined. There has been great pressure from the politicians and others to keep staffing at a minimum level consistent with patient need. This works until demand for services greatly increases and suddenly you have more patients than staff to care for them. We will need to build more flexibility to meet staffing needs in the next pandemic.

Becoming wiser will not come without costs. The current COVID-19 situation has laid waste to even financially strong healthcare organizations. When you hear about layoffs in the midst of the pandemic at organizations like Mayo Clinic, you know that things are bad. Will smaller healthcare organizations be able to survive?

Which brings me to a quotation by John Ruskin I have often written about and which hung on the walls of my office during my career:

“There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.”

Here’s to becoming wiser.

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