Think About It: Conflicting thoughts in small spaces

“In nursing (and medicine), the worst outcome is death.”

This quote came from a woman, a nurse, I interviewed for my book on women and aging. It was her response to the part of the interview that asked each woman to comment on their feelings, spiritual or otherwise, about death.

By now we have all seen many interviews of men and women caring for people in medical crisis, life and death conditions caused by COVID-19. Each interview brings this quote to my mind. None of these patients came in as hospice patients. Everyone is working to save the life of the patient.

We can’t say or clap our gratitude enough to recognize the tremendous dedication and service of all associated with brave attempts to cure and care, but we must never stop.

I have been fortunate enough to be part of health care, the service and the industry, and I have met many who employ their skills daily to save lives. For many, it is a calling. I’ve met very few for whom it is just a paycheck.

Pray that they and we never again have to struggle to save this many lives each day for what seems like endless days.

Since I am a health care professional, I find it very hard, nearly impossible, to get my head around the idea that we and our leaders wouldn’t do everything possible to provide life-saving care to critically ill people. I find it impossible to understand why we would not want to prevent caregivers from getting the deadly virus if only to live another day to save more lives.

I can understand delays when we are taken by surprise and need time to organize. But I do not understand why, weeks later, we are sending valued skilled health workers to care for critically ill and contagious patients without sufficient protective supplies. Caregivers have died after contracting the Coronavirus from sick patient(s).

Whose job is it?

All roads should lead to ending the immediate threat of the virus which would include access to care by protected caregivers, scientific work on the development of treatments, cures and vaccines and benchmark planning for a return to lives of productive work and play.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like we can overcome the dysfunction of divided philosophies, government and people. If only the virus had not picked an election year, presidential election no less, our chances of moving ahead quickly would be better. Seems to me that each conflict is overlaid with philosophical and political imperatives from Democrats and Republicans.

Here are three key conflicts I see impeding progress on all the above goals (so far), all of which contribute to delays and confusion, of not obfuscation.

• Small government vs. large government (whose authority/responsibility?)

• Market-control vs. government-control (competitive market bidding for supplies by individual states vs government purchase at one price/distribution)

• Science of prevention v.s strength of economy (cure worse than disease or how many lives are expendable and at what level to serve the economy or containment of virus)

I listed small vs large government first because it simply never occurred to me that the federal government would not immediately step in to provide and coordinate reliable data, protection and consistent actions to each state in the event of a pandemic.

I suppose there is a myriad of explanations for the federal government’s failure to step in and up to the tremendous need for testing, protective supplies, treatments and vaccines across all states. The one I keep hearing is that containment, testing and securing supplies is each state’s responsibility.

Would anyone think that each state should have formed its own defense against terrorists after 9/11? Would anyone think that Washington state should use its national guard to defend itself if North Korea bombed the state? How absurd – of course not.

So what’s the difference? Is it the debate of smaller government vs larger government? Of late, there has been a steady dismantling of federal regulations, many of those related to health and environment; I know of none related to the military. Could it be because both predominant political parties support a strong military and see it as a federal responsibility?

Health care, at best a commodity in good times

Our political parties disagree on the role of the federal government in public health and health care, even though the consequences, as we are experiencing, are more immediate, deadly and across state lines. Somehow, the country’s ability and strength to withstand an invasion by an invisible virus isn’t viewed as the same priority as withstanding an invasion by another country.

Nor is it seen by small government advocates as a federal interest in pre-pandemic days. Yet, we are advised that people who have chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes and obesity are at high risk of serious consequences and death from COVID-19, more so if they are 65 years and older. Not surprisingly, a high percentage of people dying from the virus live in poverty and communities that lack access to consistent health care.

The United States of America lacks national policies and direction related to the health of its communities and citizens. Policies and intention should be discussed, debated and established before strategies are defined such as having robust systems of public health and health care delivery that have at their hearts the well-being of all people.

The nation’s economy, markets and businesses would be stronger and more resilient individually and collectively as a result. Frontline health workers who want nothing more than to save lives would be rewarded with the chance to do so.

Bertha Cooper, featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Cooper’s book “Women, We’re Only Old Once” is due out this summer. Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim over 20 years. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

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