“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”― Oscar Wilde
Throughout Michigan, hospitals are critical to their communities not only because of the services they perform, but because of their role as leading employers as well. Regardless of where you live, you very likely know someone who works in a community hospital or in the healthcare field. In fact, in 2018 one in every five employed people in Michigan were in positions directly or indirectly related to healthcare. In total, hospitals in our state provide 234,000 jobs, supporting family members, neighbors and other local businesses. Taken as a whole, healthcare provides more jobs than automotive manufacturing and education combined; as a result, when healthcare operations are impacted, there is a clear trickle-down impact throughout an entire community.
With a death toll that just passed the 20,000 mark, it is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound detrimental impact on the health of Michigan communities and has battered healthcare workers physically and mentally. The most pressing challenge today for the leaders of our member hospitals and health systems is clear: workforce sustainability — in other words, how to best support the front-line caregivers who are working so hard to provide care to our patients and communities and how to recruit and retain enough healthcare professionals to continue providing this care into the future.
Our hospitals are operating at near-capacity levels due to high volumes of non-COVID-19 patients, many of whom delayed seeking care during the pandemic and are now presenting in the emergency department with higher acuity, requiring higher levels of care and longer lengths of stay. These patients are members of their local communities, serving as business owners, employees and customers. Much as hospitals are stretched thin due to higher volumes and limited staffing, so are our local businesses. The bottom line: hospital operations, public health, and economic vitality are all inextricably linked in our communities.
Businesses of all stripes have been stretched to their limits over the past year and a half. From food service and hospitality to retail, manufacturing, academia and beyond, whole industries have been severely impacted by the pandemic due to supply and staffing shortages. While serving on the Michigan Economic Recovery Council during the beginning of the pandemic, I learned from some of Michigan’s top business leaders how significant the impacts were to their workforce, operations and bottom line. Many businesses have had to react by postponing specific service lines or production, reducing hours of operation, increasing prices or all the above. But there is one significant difference between our situation today as compared to the earlier stages of the pandemic: we now have a powerful tool in our toolbox that is proven to work and can help accelerate our return to normalcy. Of course, I am referring to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Besides the obvious motivation to protect yourself from serious illness, hospitalization and death by following public health guidance and receiving the vaccine, there is a need to do so for the economic vibrancy of your local community. Regardless of political views, I can confidently say we all have shared goals of wanting to see our communities thrive, our children in school and our businesses profitable. When it comes to treating and preventing disease, we always look toward our healthcare experts to guide us on a path to recovery. The MHA Board of Trustees, as well as the clinical leaders within our membership, are unequivocally united when it comes to the importance of vaccinations and appropriate masking. We know these tools work, and the evidence from hospitalizations during Michigan’s spring and existing surges prove it, as the older age groups with the higher vaccination levels experienced smaller increases in hospitalizations than younger age cohorts. In fact, approximately 99% of all COVID-19 deaths have been unvaccinated individuals.
I’ve said this publicly for over a year, and I will say it again: whether a local, state or federal public health mandate exists or not, it does not change the fact that receiving a vaccine, wearing a mask, staying home when sick and practicing proper hygiene are the right things to do. Each of these measures reduces the risk of passing on a highly contagious and deadly virus and saves lives. What it also does is lead us closer to economic prosperity for our communities and allows our businesses to focus on what they do best. Our country’s forefathers established core democratic values as our society’s fundamental beliefs. Included is the common good, where we all should work together for the good of all. It is time we remember this principle for the betterment of our communities and economies.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.