As I lay here with an aching body — but a grateful heart — after my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, I can’t help but reflect on the past year.
A virus hit the United States. Businesses and schools closed. And a general fear of the unknown overtook our households and consumed our thoughts. How long would this last? How virulent was this virus? How many would die? Would life ever go back to normal?
Fast forward to March 2021. Collectively, we’ve weathered so much this past year. While we can look back to some bright spots, the staggering death toll from the pandemic overshadows all. We just flew our flags at half-mast in mourning 500,000 lives lost in the past year in the United States due to COVID-19. It’s a sobering figure that represents a 15 percent increase in the national death toll, the highest increase since 1918, when the U.S. was hit simultaneously by the Spanish Flu and World War II. The death toll from COVID-19 in the U.S. is equivalent of losing one person per minute over the course of a year — or the entire population of Atlanta.
Personally, the pandemic has inspired feelings of helplessness. How can I help? Staying home, wearing a mask and helping my neighbors somehow hasn’t felt like enough. I’ve watched with curiosity and awe at the accomplishments of Operation Warp Speed getting vaccines developed and into the market. For me, the efforts of Operation Warp Speed have shown if we rally around big problems, we can provide meaningful solutions quickly. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have that level of passion and engagement with health care.
One thing we now know to be true about COVID-19: Preexisting conditions contribute to the severity of illness. And many preexisting conditions are preventable It’s estimated almost two-thirds of hospitalizations for COVID-19 were due to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. We know good preventive care — seeing your doctor annually, doing routine blood work and incorporating healthy foods and regular physical activity into your lifestyle — helps in avoiding preexisting conditions.
Preventive care is our passion here at Monument Health, and my dream would be for all Americans to share this passion with the common goal of improving health outcomes while reducing costs. We work with local employers, doctors and health insurance companies to better coordinate patient care across a system that is, in many ways, fundamentally broken and expensive.
On the topic of cost reduction in health care, it’s hard to fathom how much COVID-19 has cost businesses. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses have closed forever. Others have sent employees home and spent millions on new technology — Zoom Video Communications stock surged 382 percent this year. Such new labor laws such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave. Employees have been out because of illness, quarantine or caring for children out of school.
Employers are absolutely critical to our health care system, and there are many reasons employers should engage in preventive care work. There are the obvious incentives to keep employees healthy to promote attendance, reduce costs associated with disability and workers’ compensation and avoid spreading diseases within the workplace.
Could employers play a greater role and should they? Bringing this back within the context of COVID-19, the answer is a resounding yes. Employers have an important role to play in work force health. Imagine if more employers invested in preventive care and wellness for their employees as well as their spouses and dependents covered by the same employer-sponsored health plan. Monument Health engages with many Grand Valley employers to facilitate such activity — with great results.
Employees and dependents covered by Monument Health enjoy guaranteed access to primary care, followup calls after a trip to the emergency room or hospital to ensure they’re getting back into their primary care homes, biometric screenings for risk factors for chronic diseases and ongoing support in managing chronic illnesses. A continued focus and commitment to these types of wellness activities will not only lead to cost savings on health insurance premiums, but also help prevent the severity of COVID-19 by staving off chronic illnesses and conditions that exacerbate COVID-19 in the first place.
When we prioritize efforts to live healthier lives, we see immediate, positive effects for business owners, employees, individuals and communities.
Monument Health is committed to doing just that because preventive care is our passion.