Working with the upsides of this crisis

When we transitioned back to the US five years ago I thought turbulence was the new normal, given all the changes in healthcare (mergers, acquisitions, hospital closings and new value-based arrangements that lead to all sorts of complex partnerships). There was a lot of restructuring in the sector and especially in the public hospital system where I worked. But that pace of change pales compared to this 2020 pandemic.

It’s now eight weeks into “New York on Pause” (our lockdown). We’re patiently waiting, yet aware that nothing will be “normal” again soon, if ever. It’s easy to descend into existential despondency at the state of the US (abysmal levels of incompetence and obstruction from the White House, anti-Asian discrimination and crimes, etc.). But we’re also at a critical threshold of opportunity. Conversations I’m having these days is how this crisis is impacting career, work, and raising kids, given that all long-term goals have to be re-evaluated now. And wow, where to start, so I will skim through the leading thoughts.

The unifier-in-chief in all this is New York Governor Cuomo. His daily briefings are so valuable because there’s new information every time I look at the news. Most of it has been bad (new pathologies were emerging almost every day for weeks) but there’s also a lot of good (so much neighborly efforts, like helping elderly people who are at highest risk get their groceries). But always, even through the roughest patches, he looked at the positives. He looks for the things that are doable, he asks for help and ideas, and he tugs on your sense of community and shared values. Whatever the shortcomings of his approach, he brought us all together on this. His briefings are broadcast daily across the globe.

And if you followed these briefings, there are a lot of things to learn about how the future is shaping up, at least in New York State. The leadership here at least seem to recognize the golden opportunity at this juncture to re-imagine and re-shape the future of this region. It’s not a stretch to think how our careers, lives and our kids’ education will change to accommodate all of this.

Cuomo frequently refers to the upstream factors around our epidemic and the response. Why are specific demographics more vulnerable? Why are hospital systems not coordinating? Why is the distribution of needed equipment and supplies so poor? The problems are so disparate, so far upstream, and yet they converged to create so much disruption and deaths in NYC. Cuomo identifies a lot of these, including issues of equity and social justice:

  • Over-reliance on the federal capacity
  • Too few geographic sources of raw and finished products and equipment (China)
  • Industries’ ability to coordinate (healthcare workers) and pivot production to where things are needed most (ventilators and masks)
  • Lack of resilience of community infrastructures
  • The role of systemic environmental racism, which consistently puts communities of color at higher risk of health issues – more crowding around homes and workplaces, associated poor quality of home and work spaces, the type of service work our communities typically take, unstable access to food / childcare / healthcare. This is just to mention a few!

Given the national political landscape, it’s so refreshing to have a regional coalition of governors who coordinate data-driven initiatives to 1) get us out of this mess, 2) guide the re-opening, and 3) lead the recovery.

(The daily briefings – over the course of two months now – literally touch on all the principles of population health. Watching them are like a refresher course on public health and epidemiology.)

These briefings and other developments in the country offer clues as to where all of us will be pivoting. In New York State and the Northeast, there is the creation of new industries to source our own products. This doesn’t have to revolve around manufacturing factories. There are plenty of maker space opportunities. In healthcare, hospitals will start coordinating more across the public-private-civil sector space, for more effective responses to crises. For education, California State University and others will conduct all Fall classes virtually. In business, NYC’s largest finance, consulting, banking, research firms won’t be returning their workforce to the office this Fall, and are contemplating a much reduced commercial real estate footprint in the future.

Notwithstanding current challenges, the implications are massive. These developments will be upending opportunities and re-organizing the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In civil society / community-based organizations / communities, for decades there have been dialogue about the importance of cross-sector partnerships, and attempts at institutionalizing arrangements that incorporate voices from civil society. Who else knows how to navigate our communities and channel synergies at the grassroots? Certainly not the executives or academics or politicians! In this recovery phase, our communities’ role in the policy sphere is a no-brainer.

  • How do we get our community-based organizations and non-profit groups to become crisis-adaptable?
  • How do we tap into the sense of civic duty and shared social responsibility?
  • How do we build organizational capacity and the civic infrastructure to channel grassroots response? Hong Kong got through their epidemic despite their government! Why couldn’t we?!

For education and homeschooling, what does it mean to go through this period where all of society had to pivot to address a crisis where we have no idea what we’re up against? And then there’s the sheer pace of technological advancements during this time. Global crowdsourcing of clinical observations, preliminary research findings, emerging pathologies mean we’re deluged with information that is unfiltered and haven’t gone through rigorous peer review. How do we teach our kids:

  • To be data-savvy, literate and math-literate?
  • To expertly navigate the massive amount of information and to incessantly fact-check all information?
  • To stay current with advancements, such as the practical emergence of big data, the use of artificial intelligence and virtual reality technologies?
  • To navigate collaborative spaces, and work across industries and disciplines?

There’s so many opportunities here, at all levels of personal and work space, in community dialogue and the policy sphere. This experience with covid-19 has scarred a lot of us, where most of us in NYC do not know at least one person who died. It is a numbing experience, but it is a chance to turn all this into something positive, and it starts with each one of us who is navigating careers while raising kids. We just have to remember, no matter how bad things look, there’s always an upside. And we create opportunities from that.

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