Last weekend, spontaneous celebrations of gratitude for healthcare workers popped up around the world. In India, they rang bells and banged pots and pans. In Israel, families craned out of windows and cheered.
Here in the U.S. a more practical approach is underway: healthcare companies and their trade associations are rushing to advocate for workers requiring protective equipment, for facilities that are desperate for funding, and for the facilitation of scientific research.
Organizations like Pfizer, the American Nurses Association, the American College of Emergency Physicians and many others have been the driving force behind an advocacy boom moving hundreds of thousands—maybe millions—of people to take action and contact their elected officials.
While the $2 trillion stimulus bill has emboldened diverse participation in digital advocacy, healthcare workers are playing the most important role in the fight for science-driven policies.
Tom Kirsch, an emergency physician and disaster scientist, described it well.
“I’ve been to disasters all over the world, and I have always seen health-care providers pour in to help,” he wrote in The Atlantic on March 24th. “Usually, within an hour, there are more than are needed—nurses, lab workers, X-ray technicians, doctors. No one has to ask; they just show up. And then they work nonstop.”
‘They Just Show Up’
Healthcare companies and associations did the exact same thing in Washington D.C.
Pfizer quickly released a five-point plan committing to sharing tools and data, manufacturing expertise, and other resources to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. “Pfizer has created a SWAT team of our leading virologists, biologists, chemists, clinicians, epidemiologists, vaccine experts, pharmaceutical scientists and other key experts to focus solely on addressing this pandemic,” the company said in a statement. “This team is applying their passion, commitment and expertise to a single focus.”
The American College of Emergency Physicians launched a campaign calling for Congress and the administration to increase the manufacturing and distribution of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, now known universally as PPE. “Stand with Emergency Physicians,” they said in an action alert. “Urge Congress to Act Now to Protect Frontline Healthcare Providers.”
The American Nurses Association took similar action, using the hashtag #GetMePPE. They told of nurses “reusing masks or making their own from available materials in their facilities—creating unsafe conditions for both nurses and their patients. This is unacceptable.”
Individuals played a role, too. At New York’s Bellevue Hospital, the oldest in the country with roots dating back to the 1700s, Nicholus Warstadt, a resident in emergency medicine, took action on a campaign launched by the American College of Emergency Physicians. Then, he began advocating on his own to provide the staff better protective equipment.
Science and Medicine
Companies and associations have been quick to respond to the need for a treatment and/or vaccine.
Bio, a trade association representing biotechnology companies, showcased the work each of its members is carrying out to develop a scientific response to the virus. For example, Genentech entered clinical trials with a medication focused on treating COVID-19 patients. Lilly and AbCellera are developing an antibody treatment for infected patients. Pfizer is working with the German company BioNTech on a vaccine. And there are many, many more.
The efforts extended to industries that facilitate healthcare as well. For example, AHIP, which represents health insurance providers, kicked into gear quickly. “We are activating emergency plans to ensure that Americans have access to the prevention, testing, and treatment needed,” the organization said in a statement.
AHIP also released a list of what its member companies are doing to help during the COVID-19 crisis. For example, Aetna and many others are canceling co-pays and out-of-pocket costs for diagnostic testing. Anthem is waiving cost-sharing on tele-health visits for 90 days. AvMed, together with CVS Health, is removing limits on early refills for 30-day prescriptions, to facilitate people staying home. It is also providing free home delivery.
Of course, there is also much work ahead. Issues involving funding, resources and regulation will persist for months, even after Congress approves the stimulus bill, which includes a big infusion of funding for hospitals. Meanwhile, doctors, nurses and technology groups will continue the fight.
As Kirsch wrote it, “My colleagues are remarkable. They know the risks. They go to work anyway. No one complains … They simply buckle down and get things done.”
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