Like the dirty dishes after a family dinner, the unopened boxes in the garage years after the move, or an unanswered ad for an old exercise bike, it's time to move on. It's time to leave the pandemic behind.
Not simply to “relegate the pandemic to an unpleasant memory” (1) but to learn from it. To clean the dishes, sort through the forgotten boxes, and accept that no one wants the stationary bike.
Despite all my fond recollections of lockdowns, restrictions, and controversies, I guess the pandemic wasn’t all that well-managed, according to some. As in “a massive global failure” (2). Though, to be fair, there may also have been “remarkable successes” (3).
Redefining disaster management in the post-COVID era necessitates embracing adaptive resilience, systemic thinking, inclusive decision-making, and innovative technologies, as well as international cooperation, and sustainable development (Goniewicz & Burkle, 2023).
The pandemic highlighted the interconnectedness of our world. COVID-19 illuminated the global nature of every aspect of disaster management; from supply chains, to climate change, to crisis communication. Future crises will be no different.
The rapid development of vaccines was remarkable and truly unprecedented (not like all those other “unprecedented” things like epidemics, quinine derivatives, and political blunders). The communication and the policies around vaccination were, um, interesting. As in sometimes inadequate. The power of misinformation was overlooked. The opportunity for early, open, and accurate information from governments was missed. And the trust necessary for the uptake of official recommendations/mandates was lacking.
Front lines and public health
“Most commendable were those who provided primary health care in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and ambulances. The dedication of health care providers was a true example of altruism at the risk of personal harm to self and family” (3). The pandemic might have highlighted the professionalism of many, but it also highlighted, even contributed to, burnout for these same people.
On-line or in-person?
The expansion of telemedicine might be a success. The switch to virtual department meetings is definitely a success.
As crises become more common than stability, adaptive leadership may be the “new normal” (1). Through good and bad examples, the pandemic highlighted the need for healthcare leadership to be decisive, empathetic, and consistent. The more “complicated a problem is …the more progressive or distributed leadership is required to incorporate the opinions of many stakeholders” (4). The new healthcare leader has to make quick decisions, alter those decisions when the situation changes or more information comes to light, accept accountability for mistakes, communicate openly and clearly, and collaborate with a variety of stakeholders. The adaptive leader effectively uses “strategic foresight, empathy, resilience, and effective communication. Leaders must also cultivate a sense of purpose and shared vision to foster engagement and commitment among their teams” (1).
Not new at all, this is a lesson relearned with every crisis. The “pandemic disproportionately impacted marginalized communities, revealing existing social inequities” (1). This is, of course, a foundation of disaster science.
As with learning anything, failure can sometimes teach us more than success. If that is the case, we have a lot we can learn. The Lancet Commission on COVID-19 offers a comprehensive, somewhat scathing, ultimately optimistic analysis of lessons learned. Their top ten (failures, lessons to learn, whatever):
The lessons will continue to roll in. Hopefully they are heeded. There will be more crises and other pandemics. There will be successes and there will be failures. Hopefully the successes will be repeated, and the failures remembered. We don't want to forget the past. But only to help us anticipate the future (and thus live in the present) as “…the future of our world depends on our collective ability to confront and overcome the complex, interconnected threats that lie ahead” (4).
References and further reading
1. Goniewicz, K., & Hertelendy, A. (2023). Adaptive Leadership in a Post-Pandemic World: The Urgent Need for Transformative Change. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 38(4), 530-531. doi:10.1017/S1049023X23005836
2. Sachs, J. D., Karim, S. S. A., Aknin, L., Allen, J., Brosbøl, K., Colombo, F., ... & Michie, S. (2022). The Lancet Commission on lessons for the future from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lancet, 400(10359), 1224-1280.
3. Stratton, S. (2023). The COVID-19 Pandemic: Successes and Failures in Prevention and Response. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 38(4), 427-429. doi:10.1017/S1049023X23006052
4. Goniewicz, K., & Burkle, F. (2023). Redefining Global Disaster Management Strategies: Lessons From COVID-19 and the Call for United Action. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 17, E450. doi:10.1017/dmp.2023.111
5. Bhat, Z., Bhat, J., & Saba, N. (2023). Navigating the Storm: An Exquisite Leadership Insight into Healthcare Management amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 17, E484. doi:10.1017/dmp.2023.130
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