As we continue to navigate the unknowns of the current pandemic, it appears we are still a long way off from living in a true post-COVID-19 era. Only when we are equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to deal with new types of SARS viruses, including effective new treatments and vaccines, will we truly move forward.  But until that time, improved health outcomes can still be realized through effective population health strategies, providing adequate financial resources are available. 

As health care providers, many lessons and observations have already resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.  One glaring reality to come out of this shared experience is that the U.S. health care system’s finances are too heavily focused on elective surgeries, urgent and emergent care, and not on public health.

It is safe to say that we aren’t out of the woods yet, by any means. The COVID-19 pandemic will likely sink financial margins further, pushing half of U.S. hospitals into the red through the second half of 2020, according to a recent analysis from Kaufman Hall & Associates. In fact, it’s highly probable that most health care organization’s strategies will be upended, particularly for population health, which will have a waterfall effect throughout the communities they serve.

That is why there couldn’t be a more critical time for population health programs to prevail.  Population health programs encompass all the determinants of health in communities, including social, behavioral and environmental factors.  

Some health providers have observed that individuals with underlying conditions, especially from lower-income neighborhoods and communities whose main demographic encompasses monitories, are more likely to face adverse effects of COVID-19 and be at higher risk for serious outcomes. 

In fact, at the height of the pandemic in New York City, it was reported by the Department of Health that comorbidities had proven the overriding rule in coronavirus-related cases, with 86% of reported COVID-19 deaths reporting at least one comorbidity as a contributing factor.  This suggests, at the very least, those who are able to access primary and/or preventative care to manage certain adverse health conditions are better able to rebound from the disease and experience better outcomes. 

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Author: John Kastanis

John N. Kastanis serves as Principal Consultant for JNK Consultants. He is a healthcare executive with more than 40 years of experience in leading urban-based teaching hospitals.