On Our Minds

Welcome to On Our Minds, the latest feature from the Farley Health Policy Center, where we will share commentary on policies affecting health, trends from findings in data and research, and the issues that matter most in our communities. We invite you to share your perspectives and input. Drawing on expertise from our evolving network, we’re eager to work with you, learn from you, build and share policy commentary that brings us together and continues to move us forward.

Policy, Politics and the Pandemic. Can we find a common path?

Shale Wong, MD, MSPH

These are turbulent times. The collision of policy, politics and the pandemic has created an urgency for vision and stability. We find ourselves craving leadership and seeking clarity elucidated by science to define a path to safety. In our current state, where data is refuted or ignored, where the media filters and determines what and how information is presented to the masses, and the public holds rigidly to ideologic differences, who is responsible for health?

As a policy-focused clinician, never before have I experienced the degree of disruption we feel stemming from the impact of politics and public health. The scientific exploration to find relief from the surging pandemic is moving at an impressive pace. Vaccines are being developed with intense focus and record speed. Treatment and management are better understood every day. And our public health leaders are making valiant efforts. But political voices are the ones with the megaphones. It is overwhelming for all of us, health care providers included, to keep up and stay clear on these shifting grounds. Still, we are engaged and we feel responsible. 

What has become brutally clear is a truth long evident before this crisis—that health does not happen within our health care system alone. Our health is dependent on behaviors, environments, social structures, and systems. The pandemic has revealed inequities in health and access; dramatically different views of self and others; and ultimately concerning disparities regarding the root of responsibility and accountability.

With this frame, our team at the Farley Health Policy Center pursues the study and development of policies that promote health equity. We strive to overcome fragmented systems and structures, integrating services and sectors. We trust that the arts and sciences shape our beliefs, values and culture for bringing us together. Our communities hold untapped power that can be leveraged and aligned to define and meet local needs. Our work depends on how we listen, reflect and build bridges between our fragmented structures and systems that support health. 

We believe that policy enables action and structure to sustain and strengthen systems for health. Our policies must work for all of us, and should be informed by data that describes the inequities we seek to overcome. Policies can both perpetuate structural inequities and offer opportunity to change and improve efforts to achieve equity for populations that have long experienced inequitable health.

In the face of this pandemic and despite the political chaos, we see unprecedented opportunities to come together in the development and implementation of policies to mobilize community efforts and collaboration. Efforts to overcome fragmentation in our health care system have long been fraught with insufficient resources and lack of will to work together. But the pandemic may force our hand and infuse both energy and dollars that can build on momentum and passion rooted in an intolerance for inequity and unjust care that perpetuates the oppressed status quo. As we each recognize our vulnerabilities to this virus, perhaps we can renew a commitment to community and realize that caring for each other is ultimately in our own self-interest. We are all responsible to care for each other. The path is wide. It will accommodate all of us to lead and learn and follow; but we must act together to move forward.