Where is healthcare headed three years after the COVID-19 lockdown?
Three years ago right around this time, I went home from my job in another Chicago newsroom and hunkered down, like everyone else worried as COVID-19 case numbers swelled here and across the country. Groceries were delivered, plans were canceled, social gatherings became Zoom calls.
Today we largely go about our lives normally again, with the risk of COVID infection lurking in the background, much like the flu. Maybe we still have one or two test kits stowed in a medicine cabinet, just in case.
Marking the three-year anniversary of the pandemic, particularly with the May 11 end of the federal public health emergency in sight, got me reflecting about these past 36 months, what has changed in healthcare and what’s next.
We started wearing masks to help protect us from COVID-19, but those became politicized. Casual conversations with friends and family could devolve into disagreements, and mask mandates were challenged in courts. Those discussions were tame compared with the heated ones about vaccines. Healthcare leaders and some politicians came together to urge people to take precautions. I wonder what the plan is now—as more states lift mask mandates in healthcare settings—and later, as new variants emerge and additional boosters are developed.
There’s also the issue of behavioral health. The mental health struggles of children and adults during the pandemic not only removed what stigma still lingered in this part of the healthcare business, but also elevated treatment options like telehealth. That’s the upside. The other side is like any market where there’s opportunity: Bad actors raced to the space, more intent on lining their own pockets than helping patients. Let’s hope the new transparency about the need for more behavioral health options sticks, and current moves by the feds to curb abusive practices serve as a warning to the profiteers.
And finally, the pandemic cast a harsh and overdue spotlight on how underserved many communities of color are when it comes to healthcare access and options. Some organizations, hospitals, healthcare companies and community groups have stepped up to address the disparities. That’s encouraging. However, given the strapped finances of some of those players, will those good intentions get parked on the sidelines? I hope not.
Those are three of my reflections. What’s on your list?