Experts talk future of health care delivery system, effects of COVID-19

Berkeley/Sutter Health/File

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UC Berkeley School of Public Health-sponsored health care specialists and leaders discussed the future of the health care delivery system after the COVID-19 pandemic ends during a livestream Monday.

The event was moderated by Kimberly MacPherson, faculty program director for health policy and management at the School of Public Health. Panelists — many of whom are UC Berkeley alumni — answered questions surrounding the systematic changes the health care system will be looking at following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hospitals in the U.S. are losing $1.4 billion a day. … That is leading to furloughs, layoffs and all kinds of very difficult decisions,” MacPherson said during the event. “The question is what that is going to mean over time, and how can we perhaps take advantage of this crisis to make a change?”

According to Steve Lockhart, Sutter Health’s chief medical officer, Sutter Health has not furloughed any staff. Instead, he said, the company’s solution has been to retrain staff, such as recovery nurses, to treat for critical care.

La Clínica de La Raza, unlike Sutter Health, has had to reduce 25% of its workforce, said CEO Jane Garcia. She added that it is losing $3 million a month.

Garcia also said 90% of patient visits have been conducted using telehealth, a virtual service that allows health care staff to reach patients. Mental health providers, however, have expressed concern that people may not have adequate space or privacy in their homes to feel comfortable using the service.

The United States spends $3.8 trillion per year on health care, and 2.5% is spent on public health, according to Richard Levy, chair of the School of Public Health’s Policy Advisory Council. He added that those numbers have changed considerably in the last two months, with more funding going into technology to predict and protect against pandemics in the future.

“Even though we are spending so much on health care, we are underrepresenting public health in that expenditure,” Levy said during the event. “The big changes are coming not just in the technology but in the health services areas.”

Though there have been fewer emergency care visits, Lockhart said this may be due to individuals fearing the possibility of contracting COVID-19 from patients being treated at hospitals. He worries that those who lack trust in hospitals will wait too long, causing their conditions to worsen.

Lynn Barr, founder and executive chair of Caravan Health, reported closings of independent practices, large drops in elective surgeries and an average layoff rate of about 20% at the 250 hospitals Caravan Health works with.

“One of the things that’s just really shocking to me is watching the incomes drop of the people who are putting their lives at risk, and this is only in America, we’re not seeing this anywhere else,” Barr said during the event. “I don’t think it’s their fault, but it is the way our system is built.”

Contact Dina Katgara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.