I have started almost every email, conversation, webinar or call in the last few weeks with a simple wish that you, your families and colleagues are safe and well. Each morning as I hear my two boys rustle themselves awake, I am reminded of how precious our lives are, how important the people around us remain and how every moment we have is one to appreciate for its essence and to contribute to making better with our every breath.
This is no different than in our shared efforts to address COVID-19 as a community, to stand with each other during this crisis and to sustain and ensure that a focus on human experience is not lost in these critical times. It was just 10 years ago to this day – April 14 – that I first stood in front of a room of people to publicly share what my dream for The Beryl Institute was. I believed the opportunity that we were called to address and the possibility I saw in our coming together was not to simply espouse certain ideas, but rather to foster connection, to ignite innovation, to catalyze connection and to elevate a conversation that has only grown at the heart of healthcare over the last decade.
My hope for our community then is being realized now, as I called on us at the time to establish a destination for shared information and research and an incubator of new ideas and practices that positively impact the patient experience. What we have become together is much more now, as we are truly a global community of practice committed to elevating the human experience in healthcare.
This journey led us to this moment where we reinforce that our efforts have never been about the Institute, but rather they have been about what the Institute represents in the voices of those who are served by healthcare and those who serve in healthcare every day. That is the power of community, for the voices right now spending tireless hours to care for those in the most dire of times are doing so moved by something bigger and knowing there are so many more standing behind them with hope, with commitment, with shared purpose and with a belief that together we can and will move through this crisis.
At a time when days feel like weeks where people are either charging in to care for others on the front lines, supporting it from afar, showing up to provide essential services in so many needed industries such as food stores and pharmacies or by doing their part by staying home to flatten the curve, teaching their children or providing care at home, this crisis has called on all to contribute, and it will take all of us to succeed. That premise of all of us together is fundamental to the essence of human experience that brings us all together in our growing community with the Institute. Just last week alone we saw over 1000 people engage across webinars, phone calls or virtually online to share and support one another. Those voices represented thousands more in their own organizations, each touching the lives of thousands more in the communities they serve. That is the powerful and positive ripple effect we are creating together! And why the human experience is not something to lose in this moment in our history.
As you follow the stories of challenge and success, of loss and hope, of overcoming odds and succumbing to this disease, in all of this what we have done and continue to do as a community is ensure the humanity at the heart of healthcare burns brighter than ever. I think at the start of this crisis there was concern that the dire needs and actions required would squelch out the embers of humanity at our core, but in all we have seen in acknowledgement and success, compassion and clinical excellence, sacrifice and unwavering commitment to fellow humans by so many, the idea I will forever reinforce – that in healthcare we are human beings caring for human beings – has only seemed to grow stronger.
At the same time, we are reminded of the vigilance this crisis will take. If we pull up on the reigns of our essential efforts too soon, we will find ourselves slowing before the finish. And I believe that as we look at this crisis, we will never truly get beyond it. This is not a pessimistic tone, but rather one grounded in optimism for all we will have and will continue to learn. I do not believe we will have a post-COVID era, or even a new “normal.” Nothing about this is, or will be, normal…but rather, we will have a NEW EXISTENCE where much of what we espoused and worked so hard to put in place before this crisis will remain essential. At the same time, cracks have been revealed and systemic weaknesses highlighted for healthcare globally, many which we subtly or in passing have acknowledged, some with more extensive efforts to address underway, but in the midst of this crisis have become ever more apparent.
In our latest episode of the To Care is Human Podcast released this week, I had the chance to speak with Dr. Shantanu Agrawal, President & CEO of the National Quality Forum. In our conversation, as in many I have had with leaders and community members in the last few weeks, we discussed the revelations of this crisis beyond the challenges of readiness or even the lack of “systemness” in our regional, national and global healthcare system, to that of the inequity that is revealed in healthcare itself. This crisis has revealed powerful things about us societally as well, not just about those we serve in healthcare but even the everyday heroes in our midst who don scrubs or coveralls, aprons or gowns to support the very foundation on which healthcare operates. We will be called as a result of this crisis to tackle those issues in ways we have yet had the muscle to do.
At the same time, healthcare’s self-perceptions on the dangers found in assessing risk versus acting with agility and speed has been challenged, as we have seen technology application rapidly deployed, protocols overturned or rewritten, inflexible structures cracked and quickly rebuilt and more. All of what we are learning in the face of the real suffering and sadness in this crisis is also what responsibilities we have to change and address our own opportunities as a healthcare system globally. These bigger issues will be part of the larger conversation on new existence, but we too cannot get too far ahead as we have people now living life’s final moments, while others are working feverishly to save those lives.
At the heart of the actions and efforts of so many lie what turns us back to the humanness of healthcare. Yes, the clinical excellence at healthcare’s roots will ensure we save lives, but the efforts we are seeing to elevate the human experience now will ensure we honor those lives through and beyond this crisis as well. While we struggle with the realities of bed space, access to personal protective equipment, ventilators, adequate testing or other needed technologies, we too have seen humanity elevated in ways we knew existed and will remain forever possible.
- Even in the face of limited visitation policies, organizations are finding technology and other means to connect people to one another, to enable those in isolation to feel less alone and provide a face and voice of comfort, even if not in person, at the end of life. We are working more to ensure we connect as people…that is the essence of human experience.
- We are seeing the human spirit personified in the efforts of so many on the front lines of care hidden behind masks and screens putting a picture of themselves with a smile and even a note or two about who they are as a person on the front of their gown. We are working to break down barriers and structures to the people we are…that is the essence of human experience.
- Caring for healthcare teams has been elevated to new heights from social-emotional needs of having support lines and respite rooms to ensuring basic needs are met in providing internally- developed markets to provide for food and sundry needs for those focused on healing others. The breadth of support for those who serve has never been so evident and tangible, even in the face of some of the challenges those providing care still face…this recognition and effort too is the essence of human experience.
- While most charging into the trenches of this crisis, from doctors and nurses to environmental service and food service workers and so many others, would not call themselves heroes, the recognition of their sacrifice in the face of potential danger is real. This is the same for all providing essential services in grocery stores or pharmacies, transporting goods or delivering food. These individuals are the synapses of a physically distanced society and the bond on which it will be connected once again. We too see an outpouring of appreciation and acknowledgement from the blaring sirens of fire and police departments, to the flashing car lights, street signs and chalk art appearing outside hospitals and care centers, simply to say thank you. These gestures remind us that what binds us is and must remain stronger than what divides us…that is the essence of human experience.
These are just some examples of what people have stepped up to do at this time, but we are reminded again and again in times of crisis that our most important resource and our greatest source of hope is one another. It is in our capacity to face what is in front of us, both for its ugly realities and its moving successes, that make humanity and, yes, the humanity in healthcare so powerful. This is not to downplay the seriousness of what we are fighting as human beings, but rather to recognize as human beings our motivation to fight comes from our ability to overcome challenge, to acknowledge and celebrate success, to see hope in darkness. That is where community comes in and why community is so important, and that is why we are and will always be stronger together!
For many, a tough stretch continues over the next few weeks and for some small cracks of relief may even be visible. With that all we have created together in our web of knowledge and support is powerful, broad and unbreakable. Know that no one stands alone, and this global community stands behind and with you in what lies ahead. I encourage you to review what the community has created together to support one another at this time in the Institute’s COVID-19 Resource Center. That is how and why I know our new existence will be a place that honors the tragedy, sacrifice and sorrow of this time, but has roots in our strength, in our collective innovation and in our shared passion and purpose.
The human experience we have all committed ourselves to has never been more real, more critical or more needed. And from all we have done and will do together in ensuring we overcome this crisis, I think we can all stand reassured that our commitment to the human experience will not be going anywhere any time soon. That is the essence of human experience.
Please stay healthy and well and thanks for all you do…it will truly take all of us…together.
Jason A. Wolf, PhD, CPXP
President & CEO
The Beryl Institute