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Opinion: Health systems working together to combat COVID

April 20, 2020 Atlanta: A billboard near Grady Memorial Hospital. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
April 20, 2020 Atlanta: A billboard near Grady Memorial Hospital. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

It is clear that our definition of “normal” may never be the same. And as leaders of Georgia’s largest and most comprehensive health care systems, we recognize the importance of working together to learn from and move ahead of this pandemic. Gov. Brian Kemp has outlined a phased approach to incrementally reopen the state, building upon the advances public health officials and health care providers have already made. Metro Atlanta’s hospitals – working together – will continue to play a critical role in our region’s success in beating this virus.

COVID-19 has prompted societal and economic changes that will be with us far into the future. Among these is the importance of following the guidelines for the Minimum Basic Operations as outlined in Gov. Kemp’s order. These include isolating ourselves if ill, screening workers for illness, wearing appropriate masks, diligently washing our hands and strict adherence to maintaining the social distancing that has played such an important role in getting us to this point.

Not only will we as citizens benefit from adhering to these guidelines, our front line health care providers - who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much - will also benefit from continuing to adhere to these guidelines.

Reopening some of our services that have been paused will be done deliberately and intentionally with utmost consideration to the safety measures that have helped us achieve the progress Gov. Kemp noted in his address. Failing to do so will increase our likelihood of further surges of COVID-19 that could prove more deadly and more costly than what we’ve experienced thus far. It’s critically important for us all to recognize we are not returning to a pre-COVID-19 normal, rather we are advancing into a world of living with COVID-19 until the necessary vaccines and cures exist. Succeeding requires the collective and measured efforts of all of us. We ask for your support and compliance in this effort.

It is also important for all of us to respect the businesses that qualify to reopen under the governor’s guidelines, but choose to not reopen because they feel a more conservative course is best for their employees and customers. Those are hard decisions and deserve our support.

As leaders of some of the largest and most prominent health systems in Georgia, we have a history of competing in ways that have made us all better and have served our patients and communities well. During these unprecedented times, we have come together in unique ways such as a daily incident command center for sharing resources, ideas, protocols and learning from one another. Our community and health care systems have benefited from our shared vision and strategy.

Tragically, many lives have been lost to COVID-19. The collaborative efforts of our health systems, combined with the social distancing efforts and the leadership of our civic leaders have resulted in many lives being saved, and suffering from this pandemic being less than what it otherwise would have been.

We must all recognize, however, that as we gradually reopen businesses and take small steps towards normalcy, our adherence to the guidelines that got us this far is critical and will define how many lives will be lost and how many will suffer in coming months.

Our Atlanta health systems are strong and united in being here for our community to save lives and reduce suffering. We cannot succeed alone. How each of us responds to the relaxing of restrictions will define our future. Stay home if you are sick and not requiring medical attention. Continue social distancing, wear masks, maintain excellent hand hygiene and avoid touching your face. We are counting on all of you. We will get through this — together.

Jonathan S. Lewin, M.D., president and CEO, Emory Healthcare; Kevin Brown, president and CEO, Piedmont Healthcare; Candice Saunders, president and CEO, WellStar Health System; John Haupert, president and CEO, Grady Health System.