Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S. more than a year ago, it has been hard for many to imagine what our next day, week or even month will look like, and uncertainties about how to move forward impact nearly every aspect of our lives.
As we transition into a new season of this difficult and eye-opening year, we remain focused on vaccine creation and distribution, and getting the world to a safer and healthier place again. But as we work to make progress on the here and now, it is critical that we do not forget about how we prepare for future public health crises, so we do not endure the same hardships we have just encountered.
Although it may seem too soon sometimes to be thinking about the next pandemic while we are still navigating one, the lessons learned over the past year must be put into action immediately to better prepare our public health institutions and improve the systems in which they rely upon before it is too late. As we learned this year, many hospitals and health departments were overwhelmed as the virus rapidly spread across the country, experiencing critical supply shortages and limited access to essential resources. Many places today are still struggling to fulfill testing needs, manage surges in case numbers, and maintain supplies of protective equipment for their essential healthcare workers. In the process, non-pandemic medical attention has taken a back seat, hampering America’s overall health as many individuals and businesses have been impacted both physically and financially.
In the event of a global pandemic, preparedness is not achieved from a one-time fix, but must be an ongoing process requiring investment. The coronavirus pandemic has proven that our hospitals need to be in a constant state of readiness. We need investments in strong, ready systems in the U.S. that can tackle the next public health crisis effectively and efficiently. Like our approach to our national security, this goal of national preparedness requires leadership with the federal government and partnerships with private entities to ensure optimal readiness.
Hospitals are already beginning to prepare for the challenges ahead, but we cannot stop there. A top priority should be to further fund programs at our top-performing state or local medical facilities so they can better share their research and experience as often as possible. Institutions with experience in biocontainment and pandemics are catalysts that cultivate and curate invaluable knowledge that can be shared with other medical professionals across the country to better operate in crisis situations like an infectious disease outbreak — to research, to train and to treat. It is in our best interest as a nation to ensure that every medical facility is prepared for a disaster with the right guidance, resources, and expertise.
While Congress has appropriated trillions of dollars of emergency spending, that funding is only a temporary solution to our problems that lie ahead—it treats the symptoms but is not a cure. There must be substantial action in the form of increased federal investment into our health systems so they can effectively combat a threat like COVID-19 from day one through its eradication. Congress and the administration recognize that America’s health and wellness are an essential investment, but in order to maintain the health of our nation, our systems must be prepared through proper funding so we can be prepared for anything that comes our way.
Our nation’s researchers, clinicians, and doctors are at the front lines of this fight serving a very wide diversity of communities. We cannot afford to let them down. It’s time to have the courage to truly reimagine the future of healthcare readiness and investing in institutions that make us safer. Our future depends upon it.
Dr. Jeffrey P. Gold is Chancellor, University of Nebraska Medical Center and Dr. James Linder is CEO, Nebraska Medicine.
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