This event took place on October 27, 2020 at 1-2pm EST via GoToWebinar.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in North Carolina and across the country, each season brings new questions and concerns about living safely and protecting our loved ones.
In a virtual town hall with healthcare leaders in the Triangle, residents heard from local experts about timely topics as such as how to stay safe while voting, whether North Carolinians should plan to travel for the holidays, the latest on vaccine planning and more.
As part of an ongoing series of conversations intended to open a line of direct dialogue between residents and local healthcare leaders, the town hall featured Katie Galbraith, President, Duke Regional Hospital, Chris DeRienzo, MD, Senior Vice President Quality & Chief Medical Officer, WakeMed Health and Hospitals and Steve Burriss, President, Triangle Region, UNC Health.
Here are three takeaways from the conversation.
We’re all feeling pandemic fatigue–but the virus isn’t going away
“We’ve been at this for eight months, people are exhausted, tired of the restrictions and want to see their families – and that’s completely understandable, but we also want to protect our families, friends and neighbors,” said Galbraith.
Panelists agreed – the fatigue is real, but so is the virus, and the safest thing to do is to stay home during the holiday season. If you do travel, health leaders encourage taking all possible precautions. Limiting the number of people who you interact with and traveling by car may be safer, as well as continuing to wear a mask, wash hands and practice social distancing.
Additionally, vaccine preparation and distribution plans are underway at local health systems. While there are still many unknowns about when a safe vaccine will be available and how it will be sourced, hospitals are working to ensure they are ready to bring it to every community as soon as possible.
COVID-19 is shining a light on longstanding health disparities
Communities of color have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Data from a mobile screening program from UNC Health focused on the underserved confirmed that minority populations in the Triangle, like those nationwide, are experiencing a disproportionate impact of the disease.
Other health system initiatives in the Triangle, including targeted testing and mask distribution programs, have been deployed to help slow the spread of the virus in minority communities and reduce the rate of transmission and mortality in patients of color.
Panelists also discussed the public health crisis of health inequity, sharing how social factors like housing, employment and food access contribute to disparities, as well as implicit biases within the healthcare system. These inequities have long existed, but the pandemic has crystalized for many organizations the urgent need to address these issues.
Healthcare access is key, and behavioral health is a particular focus
“All North Carolinians deserve access to care,” said Dr. DeRienzo. “We know folks with coverage have better access to preventive care” and have better health outcomes in general.
Whether its Medicaid expansion, a coverage program unique to North Carolina, or a unified effort to ensure access to affordable healthcare, the panelists agreed expanding access to care is a high priority for their systems.
In particular, access to behavioral health was already a focus, and COVID-19 has made it even more imperative.
“There is no doubt COVID-19 has made behavioral concerns even stronger,” said Steve Burriss. “This is a difficult time for people and they’re really struggling.”
Behavioral health is a focus within health systems as well, as leaders work to ensure healthcare workers are supported as they continue to put themselves and their families at risk while treating patients.
“They are heroes and have done an extraordinary job over the last eight months,” Galbraith said. “It’s remarkable, but we need to continue to support them.”
Are you a resident of the Charlotte area? Join us for our next Virtual Town Hall on Dec. 1.
These sessions are designed to give the public an opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns, and share stories with healthcare decision-makers. The Charlotte Town Hall will feature:
- Carl Armato, President & CEO, Novant Health
- Eugene Woods, President & CEO, Atrium Health
- John Green, President & CEO, Iredell Health System