Bankole: Pandemic exposes a broken public health system

Bankole Thompson

Michigan's hospitals are at a breaking point now as we disgracefully lead the world in the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases. Public health workers are getting infected themselves as they work unrelentingly to attend to the needs of those who have already tested positive. 

The richest nation in the world is now left scrambling for answers to deal with the rapid spread of the coronavirus because it lacks a public health infrastructure to combat such a killing machine.  

The virus is spreading like wildfire in Detroit, a city known for its chronic and unacceptable poverty. Health and poverty are directly linked. Disadvantaged Detroiters with no access to care are particularly vulnerable.

“We clearly need a system with everyone in and no one out,” says Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “There are many ways to get there. The Affordable Care Act fully implemented and funded could deliver on this with a few improvements.”

“It requires an adequate size workforce, well trained with the adequate funding to do the job. Fiscally, it needs about 4.5 billion additional dollars on top of existing national funding.” 

Benjamin says the increase in coronavirus cases is a “significant problem that is playing out right in front our eyes.” 

Detroit Receiving Hospital in Detroit on Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

Jamie Brown, the president of the Michigan Nurses Association, agrees. 

“We like to think we have the best health care system in the world, but the pandemic is hitting us in a way that bares all our shortcomings," Brown says. "We had one nurse who was asked to pay $2,500 for a COVID-19 test. People should not have to worry about whether they have the money to go to a doctor or get a test."

"No doubt there are people not being tested and not being treated right now for financial reasons, and that puts us all at risk.” 

Brown describes a strong public health system: “Empowered and well-funded agencies, a strong public health workforce and a system of evidence-based information and research. In a strong public health infrastructure, we would also have policies like paid sick leave to prevent the spread of disease by people who can’t afford to call in sick. This would all be built on the foundation of Medicare for All.” 

It's not only the federal government that has done a poor job responding to the outbreak, according to Brown.

“Michigan hospitals should have been better prepared," she says. "Michigan knew for weeks that COVID-19 was coming. Many hospitals didn’t have the proper screening protocols in place. They didn’t have enough proper protective equipment. The communication with their nurses was poor and their involvement of their nurses was poor, and we’re still struggling with that.” 

With a dependable public health system in place under a federal hierarchy, we would be better prepared for threats like COVID-19.

If the public interest should remain the hallmark of any informed public health policy that caters to the needs of everyone, including the vulnerable, it is time for us to reform our health care system.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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