Bechara Choucair

Dr. Bechara Choucair is senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente.

Even though the federal COVID-19 public health emergency has ended, our nation’s public health agencies and health systems need to act now–together–to make sure we’re all better prepared for the next one and well equipped to improve health for all.

During the pandemic, the pain points in the country’s existing infrastructure and patchwork public health capabilities hindered the most effective, efficient response. Emergency circumstances brought our healthcare delivery and public health systems together to better react, but with investments and resources being withdrawn and public health authorities eroding, those gains are at risk. Public health needs renewed attention and investment. We are proud to rally support for our public health counterparts because the challenges they face have direct implications on the nation’s hospitals and health systems. 

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A strong public health infrastructure helps ensure that hospitals don’t end up being overwhelmed during health emergencies and can maintain capacity to care for their communities. Collaboration with local and state health departments allows us to better monitor and assess the health needs of those we serve–a critical component of population health initiatives. Improved coordination with these agencies can also relieve some of the challenges our workforce encountered during the pandemic.

We can best achieve these objectives through strong partnerships and a focused public health agenda.

Over the past several months, Kaiser Permanente has been working with the Alliance of Community Health Plans, AHIP, the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association to collectively develop an action-oriented agenda. By laying this foundation now, we can help ensure our nation’s healthcare and public health institutions have the systems and practices in place to respond effectively during future crises.

Community-based organizations have proven their critical role in emergency response. They are best positioned to understand local needs and to help ensure public health initiatives address them. To this end, Kaiser is partnering with the CDC Foundation to identify best practices and disseminate them widely.

We also need to determine the optimal strategies for improving public health over the next decade. Kaiser is supporting AcademyHealth to develop a public health research agenda that will help determine the most effective initiatives, service interventions and models. Investment in this research today will help to build the evidence base to develop and implement creative solutions.

We have paid a price for our country’s underfunded public health infrastructure, which resulted in significant disparities in COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. But COVID won’t be the last health emergency our country faces. Rejuvenating the complex network needed to build a stronger public health infrastructure will require commitment and investment from all stakeholders. 

We invite others across the industry to join us in ensuring our country’s public health framework is coordinated, well-resourced and efficient. We won’t be prepared for future health emergencies unless everyone is all in on building an improved, more holistic health ecosystem.

Dr. Bechara Choucair is senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente.