Reflections and a Message for These Times

People are hurting and dying. Today, more than 110,000 people in our nation have died from COVID-19 during the worst pandemic we have faced in over 100 years. Every death from this killer virus, every single one, is profoundly sad.

Still, in Maryland and across the nation, we are experiencing a calmer time in our battle against COVID-19. Fewer people are being infected and dying, and more people are recovering and beating it. But I worry day and night about COVID-19 surging again, because it is likely that it will.

Importantly, as I have written and published in the news and online, COVID-19 has also shone a bright light on the disparities that exist in healthcare, among both the people receiving and providing it, especially in communities of color and those who are economically disadvantaged. Healthcare disparity and social determinants of health are a national embarrassment. Together, we MUST do better.

So, while it is true that none of us wished for or caused COVID-19, we all have ownership in public policies associated with and our individual actions on healthcare, transportation, local access to key businesses, access to care, and homelessness that are in part to blame for people and communities of color being disproportionately attacked by COVID-19. I admired the late Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson, who said about the intersection of healthcare disparity and public policy, “Such a small part of healthcare actually happens in the doctor’s office.” He was right.

Where I live now in Baltimore, if I drive just four miles from Pikesville to Mount Washington, and travel on Park Heights Avenue across Northern Parkway, life expectancy drops by 19 years. The same is true on O’ahu, Hawai’i, where chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension are much more prevalent in Māʻili, my childhood home, and it is just not right!

I am gratified by the work Bernard Tyson began at Kaiser Permanente before his death, and proud that I and others, including but not limited to Bob Atlas at the Maryland Hospital Association and Neil Meltzer at LifeBridge Health, have made it a priority to fight healthcare disparity. And I personally admire and follow the work of Dr. Sherita Golden and Dr. Crystal Watkins, both at Johns Hopkins Medicine. But injustice, inequality and the necessity and value of diversity, inclusion and equity are bigger than healthcare.

People in our nation are hurting and they are dying. People are out of work, savings are wiped out, people are lined up for blocks on foot and for miles in cars in food lines, homelessness is up, we’ve lost decades of job growth and years of productivity, and the budgets of state and local governments are strained to historic levels. And now, the senseless murder of George Floyd has propelled people across the country to take to the streets to protest our broken justice system.

Now is a time for truth, honesty and action. It took centuries for us to come to this place and it will take years for us to right this course. But the heavy burden we face cannot stop us from beginning to take action in this work today.

When we first listen, confront the truth, and act in unity to take tangible steps for a better today, it will result in an infinite number of better tomorrows. Quality jobs and career ladders can be part of a better path forward, and broader diversity and inclusion is called for in industry leadership and governance. Our centers and campuses have the potential be part of the solution providing quality care in the community and among our workforce, bending the curve on health disparities.

History has shown us moments when there has been an overwhelming need to overcome universal, desperate, and historic challenges. This is that moment for us, for the sake of all Americans and for future generations.

As Rabbi Hillel said, "What you yourself hate, don't do to your neighbor. This is the whole law.”

In my professional work and personal life, I dedicate myself to the imperative that we all MUST do better and work step by step, day by day to right the wrongs we face. Let’s join together.

Be well,
Joe DeMattos
President and CEO
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