March 2020 was the month the world stood still. A global pandemic was upon us, and the way in which we went about our normal daily lives was turned completely upside down.
Unlike so many other COVID-19 related policies, the initial plan to “slow the spread” so that the healthcare system would not be overwhelmed, had some grounding in logic and reason. We were told that if we did our part, it would enable healthcare providers to manage the influx of coronavirus cases while still providing needed care to our communities.
Nearly two years and multiple variants later, it is quite apparent the goal posts have been moved. The initial goal to slow the spread has been abandoned and replaced with something far less attainable. Instead of focusing on more relevant information like ICU capacity, PPE supply, and nurse staffing levels, the focus has been case count. When cases rise during spikes and waves, so to do the calls for economically devastating lockdowns.
When cases inevitably spike again, or a new variant arrives, rather than placing the burden on the economy, families, and small businesses, we should instead ensure our healthcare system is well-supported with the resources it needs to not be overrun. This would eliminate any possible justification for failed lockdown policies that have done virtually nothing to control the pandemic.
Unfortunately, others have proposed the exact opposite of the most obvious solution – fee increases for Orange County hospitals and health care providers. This is a terrible idea that will result in the pandemic burden ultimately being shifted back to our hospitals, local economy, and small businesses. This item was scheduled to come before the board of supervisors for consideration at its January 25 meeting but was subsequently deleted from the agenda. The staff report with details of the proposed increases can be found at ocgov.com.
It makes no sense to place additional financial stress on a healthcare system that is already overburdened, financially challenged and incurring millions in lost revenue.
While some are under the false impression that healthcare providers raked in cash because of the pandemic, that notion could not be further from the truth, especially for our community hospitals. Not only did costs rise due to the need to retrofit buildings for patient safety and supply needs, simultaneously, hospitals lost or were forced to suspend some of their main sources of revenue, including elective surgeries.
At the same time, we have relied on nurses, physicians, and healthcare workers to be the heroes of the day. Whether it was extra shifts, understaffed ERs, or the reuse of PPE, they have continued to step up for their communities despite the personal risk. We should help our hospitals do their jobs, instead of actively making it more difficult by increasing costs at the worst possible time.
Increasing healthcare costs during a pandemic makes about as much sense as adding trillions of dollars in government debt in the middle of an inflation crisis. Or releasing violent criminals on no cash bail during a crime wave. It is predicted that the financial effects of COVID-19 will continue to impact the healthcare system for many years to come. Common sense could go a long way in addressing many of the challenges we face, we just need a little more of it in our government.
Lisa Bartlett is the Fifth District Orange County Supervisor.
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