Healthcare Remains Michigan’s Largest Private-sector Employer Despite Pandemic Losses

Economic Impact in Michigan infographic

Provides Nearly 572,000 Direct Jobs, 224,000 in Hospitals Alone

Economic Impact in Michigan infographicThe Partnership for Michigan’s Health reports healthcare directly employed nearly 572,000 Michigan residents in 2020, demonstrating that healthcare continues to be the largest private-sector employer in the state despite staffing losses attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2022 release of The Economic Impact of Healthcare in Michigan shows direct healthcare workers in Michigan earned $44.2 billion that year in wages, salaries and benefits. Hospitals alone employed 224,000 individuals in the state in 2020.

Direct healthcare employment helps create additional jobs that are indirectly related to or induced by healthcare. These indirect, healthcare-supported jobs are held by more than 502,000 people who earned about $28 billion in 2020 in wages, salaries and benefits. Together with their employers, the nearly 1.1 million workers in the healthcare sector contributed almost $15.2 billion that year in local, state and federal taxes. These taxes include Social Security, income, motor vehicle, sales, property, corporate and more.

Data from 2020 shows the early impact the pandemic had on the economic strength of the healthcare sector in Michigan. In particular, the data illustrates the rise in labor costs as many nurses transitioned to contract labor with staffing agencies. Compensation for direct jobs in Nursing and Residential Care rose by about $200 million from 2019 to 2020, although the number of jobs fell by about 11,000. Specific to hospitals, the number of jobs fell by about 7,000 jobs from 2019 to 2020, but total compensation remained about the same.

The loss in jobs represents the initial exit of many healthcare workers due to burnout and stress associated with the pandemic. Both nationally and in Michigan, healthcare experienced a shortage of healthcare employees for several years and the pandemic caused a sudden loss of existing workers. With Medicare beneficiaries in Michigan increasing by more than 8% over the past five years to a total of 2.1 million people, Michigan needs more healthcare workers, now more than ever, to serve the changing needs of the state’s aging population.

The trend of nurses transitioning to contract labor is supported by recent research from the American Hospital Association, which found labor expenses per patient for hospitals increased 19% through 2021 compared to 2019. Increased labor expenses have a more profound impact on hospitals and health systems, as labor expenses account for more than 50% of total expenses for most hospitals. In addition, healthcare reimbursement is unable to quickly respond to inflationary pressures since rates are negotiated months in advance, presenting additional financial challenges when responding to sudden labor market demand.

The report was compiled by the Partnership for Michigan’s Health, which consists of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, the Michigan State Medical Society and the Michigan Osteopathic Association, all based in the greater Lansing area. It uses 2019 and 2020 data, which is the most recent available.

“This report demonstrates the unquestionable and significant role healthcare, and specifically hospitals, play in Michigan communities,” said Michigan Health & Hospital Association CEO Brian Peters. “Not only have they played a vital role in the care and treatment of patients, but they remain far and away the leading employers and large drivers of economic activity.”

“Healthcare careers are not only extremely rewarding, but crucial to our society,” said Kris Nicholoff, executive director of the Michigan Osteopathic Association. “While healthcare careers remain in high demand, the data shows there are over a million individuals we owe our gratitude toward for providing care during one of the most trying and tumultuous years in modern history.”

“Physicians are and will continue to remain a key driver of healthcare employment and economic growth,” said Julie L. Novak, CEO of the Michigan State Medical Society. “Investing in physician-led team-based care and healthcare careers is key to the economic vitality and health of our state, local communities and residents. Physician practices, hospitals and other care settings offer good paying and stable jobs in careers that truly improve and save lives.”

Hospitals and healthcare providers remain focused on ensuring these jobs meet the needs of their employees, from offering competitive compensation and benefits to ensuring a safe and supportive work environment. The Partnership for Michigan’s Health joined several other organizations in the Healthcare Workforce Sustainability Alliance to advocate for state funding to support the recruitment, retention and training of healthcare workers. These efforts were successful in Public Act 9 of 2022 which allocates $300 million in state funding to support Michigan’s healthcare workforce.

The 16th and 17th editions of The Economic Impact of Healthcare in Michigan were compiled using IMPLAN® cloud software to quantify healthcare’s significant economic impact in the state. The data represents direct, indirect  and induced  healthcare jobs; taxes paid by those workers and their employers; and salaries, wages and benefits earned. The report is an online, interactive tool that allows users to examine these economic impacts from a statewide perspective and by region, county or congressional district. The data from both 2019 and 2020 is provided in two separate data tables. It is available at www.economicimpact.org.

MHA CEO Report — GME’s Role in the Healthcare Talent Pipeline

MHA Rounds Report - Brian Peters, MHA CEO

“Medical education does not exist to provide students with a way of making a living, but to ensure the health of the community.” ― Rudolf Virchow

MHA Rounds Report - Brian Peters, MHA CEOAs we enter the final two months of the MHA program year, our “all-hands-on-deck” prioritization of the healthcare workforce continues, and I am pleased to share that we have made significant strides in this regard. Included in that progress is work with our partners in higher education, other Michigan healthcare associations, hospital clinical leaders and the Michigan Legislature.

One aspect of our workforce efforts is not new. For many years, the MHA has led a special Graduate Medical Education (GME) Advocacy Day, hosted at our MHA Capitol Advocacy Center (CAC) in downtown Lansing. At this event, medical students, residents from teaching hospitals and academic medical centers, and other key leaders converge on the Capitol and meet with legislators to discuss the vital importance of GME funding in the state budget process.

After a brief hiatus due to the pandemic, we are excited to play host once again for this important in-person event, as we will welcome our colleagues to the CAC on May 5.

When this event began, the primary focus was to express the importance of GME and the national prominence that Michigan has earned in medical education. We have more than 7,200 physician residents currently working in the state, which ranks fourth in the nation. In addition, Michigan is third in the country for student enrollment in public medical schools. The investment Michigan makes in GME is very valuable, as every $1 in GME generates $2.53 in federal funding in fiscal year 2022. While the current rate is enhanced due to the existing public health emergency, there is no question that GME funding for Michigan’s beginning physicians is a wise investment for the future healthcare workforce in our state. GME also improves access to care, as it allows physicians to further their medical education while delivering much-needed care to patients throughout Michigan in teaching hospitals, community clinics and laboratories.

The vital role of GME in filling the talent pipeline is more important today than ever, as Michigan hospitals (and the healthcare delivery system in general) struggle with workforce shortages that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those shortages across the state have caused Michigan to lose approximately 1,300 staffed hospital beds over the past 18 months. Nationally, the physician shortage is estimated to be between 37,800 and 124,000 by 2034, including primary care and nonprimary care specialties, as the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates two out of every five active physicians will be 65 or older within the next 10 years.

The participants in our GME Advocacy Day have experienced many of the challenges that we’ve shared with elected officials: stress, burnout, workplace violence, vaccine hesitancy and significant loss of life due to COVID-19 and a host of other medical issues. Their perspective is extremely valuable as we make the case for funding and public policy that ensures the viability of our healthcare infrastructure for years to come. In addition to full funding of the traditional GME pool, there are several related items on the radar screen here in Lansing, including:

  • Included in the state’s Higher Education budget proposal is House Bill 5785, which would provide funding to create a healthcare workforce collaborative between the MHA and Michigan’s public and private post-secondary educational institutions. This partnership would not only provide employers with a better understanding of statewide graduates in health professions, but further improve the knowledge of employment opportunities in healthcare for post-secondary education institutions throughout the state. Included in the collaborative would be the creation of a searchable and accessible repository that allows healthcare employers to understand current educational trends and provides prospective employees easy access to healthcare positions throughout the state.
  • The MHA also supports legislation designed to incentivize more medical school and advanced practice nursing program preceptors by providing new tax credits. Senate Bills 998 and 999 would create a new tax credit for individuals who agree to work as a preceptor for required clinical rotations. We believe this legislation could help increase the capacity for clinical rotations at hospitals across the state, which would also improve the talent pipeline.

As we advocate in support of GME and related issues, we of course greatly appreciate the collaboration of our friends from the Michigan State Medical Society (MSMS) and Michigan Osteopathic Association (MOA). Together, our three associations make up The Partnership for Michigan’s Health, which has a long history of working together on healthcare issues of common interest, including the achievement of major medical liability reforms in the early 1990s, which established the foundation for much of our advocacy work in the Legislature and the courts ever since.

Most recently, the collective voice of our three associations, along with associations representing various other areas of healthcare, led to successfully securing $300 million in state funding for the recruitment, retention and training of healthcare workers. Collectively, the Healthcare Workforce Sustainability Coalition was created to focus on workers already within the healthcare workforce. Gov. Whitmer also recently signed Senate Bill 247 that would decrease wait times for commercial insurance prior authorization requests, a priority for all three associations. We are also united in our opposition to Senate Bill 990 that would create a serious public health risk by licensing naturopathic practitioners and classifying them as physicians. As healthcare associations, the professional careers of our members are dedicated to serving their patients and protecting the health and safety of the public. This opposition is an example of our need to protect the public from a practice that lacks scientifically proven treatment methods and clinical training.

In addition, we have long collaborated with MSMS and MOA to produce The Economic Impact of Healthcare in Michigan Report, which provides a detailed look at the extensive roles hospitals and health systems play in their local economies. Work is underway on the next issue of the report. The MHA Keystone Center Board of Directors has also designated one seat each for the MSMS and the MOA since its inception to ensure physician representation as we strategize on safety and quality improvement issues. And finally, the MHA and the MOA literally got closer last year when the MOA relocated its offices to the MHA headquarters building in Okemos – an arrangement that is unique anywhere in the country.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the MHA’s new focus on engaging with our physician leaders. For the first time ever, the MHA will be hosting activities dedicated to our physician leaders during our MHA Annual Meeting, including several sessions that will include CME credits. MHA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Roth is leading these efforts, which complement his work throughout the pandemic engaging with our health system chief medical officers to facilitate consistent and reliable dialogue that allowed the MHA to efficiently provide policy updates to our clinicians as well as real-time feedback to policymakers. We’re extremely fortunate to have Dr. Roth, as the MHA is one of just a few state hospital associations with a full-time CMO on its leadership team.

Lastly, in an effort to fully support our physician colleagues (and other caregivers), the MHA Keystone Center is offering the Well-being Essentials for Learning Life-Balance (WELL-B) webinar series to prevent healthcare burnout by delivering weekly webinars on evidence-based well-being topics, including prevalence and severity of burnout, relationship resilience and being present. It is encouraging to see that over 4,000 individuals have already signed up for this innovative program.

As you can see, there is no magic pill that can solve the healthcare staffing crisis overnight. It will take many years and a multitude of public and private solutions to protect access for all of Michigan’s communities. GME is one of those key solutions, and we call on our elected officials – and all Michiganders – to give it the support it deserves.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

CEO Report — Addressing Staffing Challenges

MHA Rounds Report - Brian Peters, MHA CEO

“There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time.” — Coco Chanel

MHA CEO Brian PetersHospitals have displayed tremendous resiliency over the past year and a half responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. That resiliency has come from the healthcare heroes who have served on the front lines of this crisis and experienced extreme physical and mental stress over the course of three trying surges. Yet that toll has elevated staffing, an already existing concern, to the top of every hospital executive’s mind.

We have said throughout the pandemic that the most significant determining factor of a hospital’s capacity is not physical space, beds or technology — rather, it is available staffing.  Even before the pandemic, we understood that healthcare staffing was a challenge. We currently have a population where the baby-boom generation is maturing, leading to an increased demand for healthcare services. It just so happens that many of those baby boomers also work in healthcare, and the incredible pressures brought about by the pandemic have accelerated their retirement plans.

On top of that dynamic, it has become very difficult for hospitals to recruit and retain staff in an increasingly competitive labor market where many opportunities exist outside of healthcare that offer competitive wages, signing bonuses, free or low-cost training, and the like. Nationally, 80% of nursing leaders have reported an increase in nurse turnover due to the pandemic. According to a 2021 study by Incredible Health, the demand for intensive care and emergency nurses grew by 186% over the past year. We are simply in a situation where the demand for labor currently outpaces supply, with 1.4 million job openings currently in the national healthcare sector according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary. In Michigan, simply visiting the Careers webpage of your local hospitals will likely show the dramatic number of openings that are currently available.

Lastly, pent-up demand for healthcare services has stretched existing staff over recent months, as those who were hesitant to receive care for fear of contracting COVID-19 delayed seeing a provider and are now visiting our emergency departments (EDs) at very high levels. In fact, we have seen a 16% increase in hospital ED visits during the latest quarter compared to pre-COVID times in the second quarter of 2019. This pent-up demand is increasing the pressure on our hospitals and staff as people use the ED as a point of entry to the healthcare system.

A contributing factor to the staffing shortage prior to the pandemic was the rate of stress and burnout in the healthcare setting. It is apparent that there are certain jobs, especially those dealing with direct patient care, where the burnout factor is especially pronounced. In response, the MHA has assisted our members in recent years in adopting the Quadruple Aim, a framework that focuses on achieving better healthcare outcomes and has the added goal of improving the mental wellness and work/life balance of healthcare providers to address the issue of burnout. The pandemic has added new urgency to this work.

In addition, our member hospitals and health systems throughout the state have been active in identifying solutions for our healthcare heroes. Some have offered bonuses and hazard pay to staff to show their appreciation for their hard work. Hospitals are also deploying more resources toward behavioral health support to help staff cope with the traumatic stress that they have experienced over the past 17 months. During Michigan’s three COVID-19 surges, many hospitals also brought in contract workers and traveling nurses to supplement their existing workforce due to staffing shortages, the cost of which came well above standard rates due to the demand. Hospitals have also gone to great lengths to procure record amounts of personal protective equipment for their staff — yet another unplanned and unbudgeted expense.

For years, the MHA has advocated strenuously to support graduate medical education (GME) in the state budget process, and we have hosted in-person GME Advocacy Day in Lansing events in the past with our partners at the Michigan Osteopathic Association and the Michigan State Medical Society to connect medical residents with their elected officials. GME is critical to attracting medical students and residents from around the globe to Michigan.

In addition, we advocated for passage of House Bill 4359, which modernized the scope of practice for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs). Rural providers have a difficult time hiring anesthesiologists, and this new law will allow flexibility for each hospital to choose the anesthesia care model that best fits its location, staffing and resources to offer safe and effective patient care by eliminating the state requirement that a CRNA must work under direct physician supervision. We appreciate all the stakeholders that made this bill possible, as it eliminates a costly regulation while maintaining patient safety.

The MHA has also been active in bringing together stakeholders to identify solutions to healthcare staffing. The MHA Service Corporation (MHASC) Human Resources (HR) Committee was created as a collaborative body for HR leaders to come together and address issues specific to healthcare workforce issues. Led by Peter Schonfeld, senior vice president, policy & chief operating officer, MHASC, the committee has met to discuss current HR leadership priorities and review its role in guiding the purpose and direction for the MHASC efforts to address workforce resources, education, data staff development and more. The committee has also addressed priorities including vaccination policies, staffing shortages, and diversity, equity and inclusion.

We also recently formed the MHA Human Resources Council as a resource for healthcare professionals to provide input on legislative and regulatory issues relevant to healthcare employers. Staffed by MHA COO Nancy McKeague, the council will provide networking and educational opportunities for HR professionals, dissemination of best practices, and data collection and reporting relating to hospital and health system workforce metrics.

The MHASC has also been providing staffing solutions to our members through both the Unemployment Compensation Program and our Endorsed Business Partner (EBP) Program. The Unemployment Compensation Program has seen a dramatic increase in the number of cases filed since the pandemic began, processing over 70,000 unemployment claims in the last year alone, from clients in Michigan and across the country. Their decades of expertise have saved our client organizations tens of millions of dollars while addressing unemployment fraud that has become rampant recently.

We currently have six EBPs that focus on workforce solutions, including Merritt Hawkins, which provides permanent physician recruiting and consulting services. These EBPs have been carefully vetted to ensure they provide high-value services for our members in need of workforce assistance. In fact, we recently added NextJob as our newest EBP to help hospitals better support healthcare workers with re-employment services, which enhances the work of our unemployment program. I’m extremely happy that we have these services available, with other EBPs in this space focusing on compensation, workplace violence training, consulting and performance coaching.

Finally, as we look to the future, we know that telehealth and virtual care, which has seen an acceleration during the pandemic, has the potential to be real game changers for the delivery of healthcare. We will need to do all we can to help ensure that new technologies are adopted in such a way as to maximize access and affordability for all populations, while also doing right by our healthcare staff.

As you can see, the staffing challenges hospitals face are complex; yet across Michigan we are pursuing every tool in our toolbox to create solutions that both bring in top-notch caregivers and retain our healthcare heroes who have treated over 125,000 COVID-19 patients during the pandemic. Michigan hospitals remain committed to protecting our staff and doing everything we can to ensure they feel safe and protected while caring for their patients. From physicians and nurses to environmental service workers and support staff, our hospitals need all levels of team members to efficiently and effectively operate 24/7/365.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

MHA Board of Trustees Wraps up Unprecedented Program Year

The MHA Board of Trustees concluded the 2020-2021 program year by holding its first in-person meeting of the year at the MHA offices in Okemos for fully vaccinated attendees. As with every meeting since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the board reviewed the latest statewide COVID-19-related data and took a moment to reflect on the daunting toll the virus has taken in lives lost and strain placed on healthcare workers and all Michiganders. It was noted that, since the onset of the pandemic, Michigan hospitals have treated over 450,000 COVID-19 patients in emergency departments and admitted more than 120,000 for inpatient care, including 4,500 children. Despite these sobering statistics, the board celebrated the continued steep decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and infections, as well as advancements in treatment since the onset of the pandemic; however, members expressed concern about slowing rates of vaccination as more infectious variants continue to spread nationally.

The board welcomed the staff of the Michigan Osteopathic Association (MOA), which represents osteopathic physicians statewide, as new tenants within the MHA headquarters building. MOA CEO and executive director, Kris Nicholoff, addressed the board and noted the longstanding and strong relationship between hospitals and the osteopathic community, which can be further strengthened through the new space-sharing arrangement.

The board also received a report on the status of healthcare funding priorities in the fiscal year 2022 state budget, which continue to be deliberated in the Legislature, as well as recent activities related to the statewide roll-out and provider concerns related to recent reforms to Michigan’s auto no-fault insurance law. Current Health PAC Chair and incoming MHA Board of Trustees Chair Tina Freese Decker provided an update on the status of the 2021 MHA Health PAC campaign, which has been extended through July 31. Freese Decker encouraged eligible individuals and organizations to meet their contribution goals. Information about the MHA Health PAC can be found online. The board also approved type 3 membership and Endorsed Business Partnership for NextJob, a nationwide reemployment solutions company.

The board concluded the meeting by acknowledging outgoing board members Edward Bruff, president & CEO, Covenant Healthcare, Saginaw; James (Chip) Falahee, senior vice president, Legal & Legislative Affairs, Bronson Healthcare Group, Kalamazoo; and David Jahn, president & CEO, War Memorial Hospital, Sault Ste. Marie. The board also recognized outgoing chair Ed Ness, president & CEO, Munson Healthcare, Traverse City, for his leadership during such a challenging program year and extended its best wishes to incoming chair Tina Freese Decker, president & CEO, Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids, for a successful year ahead. For more information about actions of the MHA Board of Trustees, contact Amy Barkholz at the MHA.

CEO Report — Emerging from a Pandemic Program Year

MHA Rounds Report - Brian Peters, MHA CEO

Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.Helen Keller

MHA CEO Brian PetersFor many years, the turning of the calendar to June has created an air of excitement as we make final preparations for our incomparable Annual Membership Meeting on Mackinac Island. While I am disappointed that the pandemic has necessitated a virtual annual meeting for the second consecutive year, new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and subsequent revised state guidelines have many optimistic that we have emerged from the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know it will still be a long time before our hospitals cease caring for patients infected by COVID-19, but the increasing vaccination rates and mounting evidence documenting the reduced risk of vaccinated individuals contracting, transmitting or falling ill with COVID-19 is a sure sign that better days are ahead.

Now that we are in the home stretch of the current MHA program year (and in light of declining COVID-19 case rates, hospitalizations and test positivity rates in Michigan), I’d like to highlight several very recent non-COVID MHA accomplishments that show the strength and value of our association.

Our advocacy work never stops, and I am very pleased to share that the Michigan Legislature recently advanced budget proposals for both the current and upcoming fiscal year that fully fund our MHA priorities for hospitals and health systems. They include the Healthy Michigan Plan, which now has record enrollment levels in excess of 900,000 Michiganders; recent Medicaid outpatient rate increases; graduate medical education; the rural access pool and obstetrical stabilization fund; and disproportionate share hospital payments. In addition, the budget now includes potentially transformational behavioral health funding.

We are all too familiar with the worsening behavioral health crisis in Michigan and its significant impact on patients and families (as well as hospitals themselves). This issue has been elevated as a priority by the MHA Board of Trustees this year and, with their encouragement and support, we are pleased that the MHA team has secured inclusion in the House budget proposal for $125 million in new funding to add access to pediatric psychiatric treatment at hospitals, improve care of behavioral health patients in the emergency departments and add additional settings of care for behavioral health cases. By adding these resources, we should be able to reduce the time it takes for children to find placement, while also providing infrastructure funding for hospitals to find innovative solutions for emergency departments to improve existing facilities to accommodate patients with psychiatric needs. This may include distinct entrances for patients in crisis and separate spaces with safe furnishings and restrooms. As demand and the acuity of these patients increases, we are hopeful these funds can help address the main challenges so Michiganders can receive the treatment they need.

From an operations perspective, there has been a great deal of recent activity at the association. We recently welcomed Molly Dwyer-White, MPH, as the MHA’s new vice president of safety and quality and the MHA Keystone Center’s new executive director. Molly brings over 18 years of experience in healthcare and comes to us from Michigan Medicine, where she led multiple efforts to establish and integrate structures to assess and improve patient experience while serving as the director of the Office of Patient Experience. Molly is working closely with the MHA and MHA Keystone Center staff and governing boards as she transitions into her role, and I am confident she will continue the MHA’s strong work in improving health outcomes and addressing health inequities.

We just announced our newest MHA Service Corporation Endorsed Business Partner, CyberForce|Q, which is a leading provider of cybersecurity services, advancing the safety of information systems by utilizing a tactical, collective defense model with a focus on continuous improvement. CyberForce|Q has worked directly with the MHA for a number of years and helped us to launch our Mi|HSOC cybersecurity operations center for hospitals and health systems. With healthcare now the top target for cybercriminals globally, we are pleased to offer this new collaboration.

The MHA has also reconfigured our headquarters in Okemos, the Spencer C. Johnson Building, to allow for a new tenant in the Michigan Osteopathic Association (MOA), effective May 1. We are delighted to welcome the MOA and its members to our facility, and we are confident that this arrangement will lead to even greater opportunities for synergy well into the future. Both of our organizations, along with the Michigan State Medical Society, comprise The Partnership for Michigan’s Health, which routinely produces the Economic Impact of Healthcare in Michigan report, and collaborates on efforts that improve Michigan healthcare.

As for those MHA employees housed in the MHA headquarters and our Capitol Advocacy Center in downtown Lansing, their contributions and insights have helped the MHA make Modern Healthcare’s list of Best Places to Work in Healthcare for 2021 — the only state hospital association to be recognized. I am incredibly proud of this prestigious distinction because it validates our constant efforts to support our employees — who are the strength of our association. To earn this distinction in the midst of a pandemic is especially gratifying.

I also want to recognize our outgoing Board Chair Edwin A. Ness, president & CEO of Munson Healthcare, whose term will end later this month. Taking the gavel amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, Ed provided tremendous leadership to help guide us through multiple statewide COVID-19 surges and the challenges associated with the delivery of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. We spent many early mornings and late nights on phone calls, and the MHA could not have accomplished what we did without Ed’s unwavering commitment to the role.

During Annual Meeting, we will formally transition from Ed to incoming Board Chair Tina Freese Decker, president & CEO of Spectrum Health, who I could not be more excited to lead us through our next program year. In addition to guiding West Michigan’s largest health system, Tina has played an active role as a co-chair with the Protect Michigan Commission in addressing vaccine hesitancy and increasing education and awareness efforts on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.

If you have not done so already, I encourage you to register and join us at Annual Meeting. In addition to hearing Tina’s formal remarks, I’m particularly happy to have my friend Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, scheduled to join us to discuss key healthcare advocacy items at the federal level. We will also be joined by Kevin Ahmaad Jenkins, a leader in health equity who serves as a fellow within the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Minority Health and will explore racism and its effect on public health, as well as breaking social stigmas relating to racial injustice in healthcare.

While the 2020-2021 program year has been one of the most difficult in recent memory, I am proud of the strength and resiliency displayed by the MHA, our employees, our member organizations and the front-line caregivers who have gone to war against the COVID-19 virus every day. We are not out of the woods yet by any means, as we must be mindful of potential emerging variants and other complicating factors that could lead to yet another future surge. Rest assured that the MHA will continue our daily efforts in support of our members until COVID-19 is defeated once and for all. In the meantime, we should collectively celebrate the fact that, at least for now, new infections and hospitalizations have been dramatically reduced.

Through it all, the MHA has continued to serve our members and live our mission to advance the health of individuals and communities, to innovate and to keep an eye to the future. I am pleased to share just a few tangible examples in this column, and I am optimistic about our ability to create even more successful outcomes in the future. In short, we have kept our collective faces to the sunshine and, as a result, our association is as strong as ever.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.