THE THIRD ANNIVERSARY of the COVID-19 pandemic is on the horizon and we are still faced with lingering challenges.
Back in 2020, the nation watched as federal, state, and local governments sought to understand the impacts of what was then a new and evolving virus. Rapidly enhancing the nation’s ability to mobilize and respond to this public health emergency became a top priority and many public entities unlocked solutions to challenges through thoughtful partnerships with innovative private organizations. As we are now faced with a new challenge – the “tridemic” or “tripledemic” – with COVID-19, flu, and RSV, there is renewed urgency to explore how public-private partnerships can help us prepare and respond to the public health challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.
With just over 1 million lives lost and disparate health outcomes spotlighted across our nation, we know the risks associated with not properly funding our public health infrastructure. We need to build workforce capacity, our data infrastructure requires modernization, and we need a unified direction and coordinated national response. And, we also know that strengthening our public health system will take time.
To optimize our public health infrastructure, governments should look to the private sector and create public private partnerships to introduce highly effective solutions to detect and respond to new and emerging threats much more rapidly. These collaborators can design clear protocols that mitigate public risks, and, when necessary, rapidly deploy the tools, resources, and knowledge needed to create surge capacity to prevent serious illness and death.
This concept isn’t new. Public private partnerships are used in the transportation industry to access capital, they are prioritized in the water and sanitation sectors to introduce new innovations and technology, and perhaps the most well-known example is the public private partnership developed between NASA and SpaceX to initiate the launch of Crew Dragon. The benefits of public private partnerships within the healthcare industry are no different and should be a tool used to strengthen our health care system.
As the Biden administration continues to announce additional efforts to get Americans the necessary resources to stay safe, public officials should continue to build relationships with mission-driven organizations in the private sector. There are dozens of these private operators who have already proven that they have the skills and expertise necessary to support both the expansion of early warning systems (e.g., wastewater surveillance) and on-the-ground response teams. This enables rapid scaling to support the rollout of education, testing, vaccination, and other capabilities necessary to respond.
Our company, CIC Health, was specifically tapped to assist in the pandemic response, launching community-based testing services across multiple states and vaccination services in Massachusetts. As a private sector operator working on behalf of state and city governments, we transformed large and small venues into testing and vaccination sites with laboratories that processed tests and clinicians who provided oversight of clinical operations.
Also on site were emergency medical service and staffing providers who collected specimens and administered vaccines, events coordinators who designed and managed highly efficient on-site operations, software companies that enabled results reporting and documentation, and communications experts who effectively reached the general public at a time when clear communications were paramount.
CIC Health engaged with community-based organizations that were integral in creating authentic connections with community members; building trust, creating opportunities for learning and dialogue, and, ultimately, breaking down barriers to accessing services. One example of an organization that played an instrumental role in our state’s COVID-19 response is the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition. This group was created out of a need to ensure communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, particularly Black communities, were receiving culturally appropriate and equitable access to COVID-19 services.
We have experienced the incredible impact of public officials bringing together parties from all aspects of our health care delivery system to contribute their unique expertise, capabilities, and resources. No one segment of the healthcare delivery system can serve all community needs at once in the context of a public health crisis. Aligning and sharing of resources across public health departments, hospital systems, federally qualified health centers, primary care providers, pharmacies, laboratories, and more during this pandemic was truly phenomenal.
As we look forward, we must remember how creativity and ingenuity saved us since early 2020. This innovative, collaborative spirit is foundational as we prepare for what lies ahead. Our health care delivery system will be better positioned for an effective future response, particularly if we continue to rely on thoughtful public-private partnerships to ensure we reach our ultimate goal of efficient, effective, and equitable health delivery.
The time is now to adequately prepare for the next public health crisis.
Rachel Wilson is the CEO of CIC Health.