Ann Brancato


The Second Wave: How To Prepare For The Future of COVID-19

As we emerge from our initial battle with COVID-19, it is clear that the U.S. was not prepared for a major health crisis. There was no emergency plan to handle the medical, economic, or food distribution problems that challenged the nation.

Moving forward, many issues need to be addressed, including how to prevent future pandemics and the economic fallout caused by this crisis. We must address a monumental problem that we will likely face in the coming months: a second wave.

The lack of preparedness puts the states at a terrible disadvantage. New York State, like other states, did not have access to testing or necessary equipment. Healthcare systems were overwhelmed, and the scarcity of personal protective equipment increased the dangers of caring for those infected. When healthcare workers are not supported, the virus wins.

Analyzing the problems, we realize that federal agencies have not been able to meet individual states’ particular needs. The density of population, commuter patterns, recreational and social habits, etc. make each state unique. New York pays a disproportionate amount of federal taxes. We should pressure Washington to allocate federal funding based on population size and the share of federal taxes paid. It would better serve New Yorkers to take action and develop a comprehensive plan to protect its residents while collaborating with other states to obtain federal support and funding.

First, New York has to identify and develop an “army” of reservists and first responders to assist in a second wave. This new civilian workforce should include doctors, nurses, specialists who are not currently practicing, and individuals who are certified or can be certified in skills such as CPR, AED, EMT, basic and advanced life support, and adult first aid. These individuals will provide relief for medical personnel who have become exhausted and sick. When we are all prepared to work together, great things can happen.

Second, we must encourage participation in American Red Cross classes that train people in the skills described above. In addition, create training programs at community centers and on academic campuses. EMTs and Paramedics can be further trained at local hospitals and in firehouses across the community. Developing and allocating funding is essential to support those who cannot afford to pay for these courses.

Third, we need to establish community-wide stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies for our medical institutions, first responders, trade workers, and the public. Prepare local factories and manufacturing centers to shift from their regular production line to creating: ventilators, PPE, hand sanitizers, and other basic supplies. While this can be spearheaded at the local level, New York State should also build up a supply of vital medical equipment and PPEs that will serve the patients’ needs. We must not be lacking supplies should the second wave occur.

Fourth, we must develop community-wide stockpiles of nonperishable and emergency dehydrated foods that will ensure that shelves never go empty. Local governments can collaborate with grocery stores and restaurants, designating them as fresh food distribution centers, averting food shortages. In order to facilitate shopping, expand telephone ordering from supermarkets to assist those not capable of using online services. We will simultaneously be supporting local businesses, guaranteeing a supply of food, and preventing wasteful destruction of unused food.

Fifth, take this situation as an opportunity to establish a think tank comprised of experts to explore the expanded use of technology. Investigate the availability of technology for all economic levels of society. If there is a second wave, we must make sure no one gets left behind.

Sixth, it is imperative that we develop a statewide comprehensive public healthcare system comprised of hospitals, health facilities, nursing homes, and medical schools that can develop and implement plans for any healthcare crisis.

Seventh, develop a safe plan to keep businesses, transportation, and government entities operational using social distancing, rotating shifts, and teleconferencing.

Finally, it is essential that we fund and support research and testing/tracing efforts that will combat any future epidemic. We must commit our energies to develop faster, accurate diagnoses, prevention, and treatment of contagious diseases.

While there may be a considerable cost for these solutions, the spending of funds is small compared to the number of deaths, mental anguish, and severe economic losses the country has sustained. If we had spent less than 5 percent of the defense budget for preparedness and testing, we could have considerably lessened the occurrence of the disease and loss of life.

We have been ushered into a new era where Democrat and Republican designations hold less significance. With experts predicting a possible second wave, we must accept the urgency of planning now and refuse to politicize issues that will affect everyone throughout our state and nation.

Ann Brancato has decades of experience as a healthcare executive in New York hospitals/human service agencies and is currently a candidate to represent New York’s 9th Assembly District.

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Why We Must Address The Mental Health Effects Of The COVID-19 Crisis

The rapid onset of COVID-19 and the widespread scale of its effects have been traumatic. Current federal government projections predict that millions of Americans will contract the virus this year, and many thousands are expected to lose their lives.

Whether one falls ill and recovers or never contracts the virus, almost everyone will come away from this crisis bearing some type of emotional or mental trauma. More than ever before, mental health coverage under private and public insurance plans is urgently needed to restore the vitality of our nation.

The crippling loss of work and wages, the fear of social contact, and the tragedy of sick or deceased loved ones are just a few of the experiences that will continue to haunt us. When we are able to leave our homes again, and society can go back to the normalcy, we mustn’t ignore the pain that we all have gone through. When the dawn of finally beating the invisible enemy that is COVID-19 is on the horizon, we must continue to fight the mental and emotional battles that have been given to us.

According to the National Center for PTSD, about one-in-12 people in the United States are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at some point in their lives. Typically, when thinking about PTSD, one thinks of our veterans who fought for our country. The unfortunate reality is that this disorder affects many more people than one might expect- people who suffered their trauma right here at home.

PTSD does not discriminate based on age, race, gender, life circumstance, or even the trauma that it stems from. The experience of living through this outbreak and the physical, economic, and emotional trauma will inevitably create a whole host of new people being diagnosed with PTSD. Programs are necessary to help those who will develop PTSD, including the development of centers where they can go to receive the care they need.

Several specialized populations are at a higher risk of suffering from a mental illness as a result of the outbreak. Healthcare workers who have spent the last weeks exhausting themselves to save us are especially at risk.

They watch as their co-workers become infected, wondering if they will be next. They fear going home and exposing their families to the virus. They lack adequate equipment to keep themselves safe as they treat patients. They live through losing patients day in and day out.

All of this will have a devastating effect on their emotional health. Clearly this population will require specialized services and it is imperative that we commence developing these programs now.

Also at risk are our community’s first responders. As police officers, firefighters, and paramedics spend their days responding to the effects of this pandemic, they are putting themselves at a higher risk of contracting the virus. At the end of March, an NYPD official said on CNN that he estimates that over 15 percent of the force has the virus, and the number is growing.

Members of law-enforcement are already predisposed to developing PTSD, with studies finding that over 30 percent of this group will be diagnosed at some point in their lives. The mental trauma of this outbreak on our first responders will be substantial, and we must be prepared for it. We need to fund enhanced screening and assessment of traumatic stress and traumatic stress-related conditions to identify those who need help and assure they receive the care that they need.

Essential workers who are not healthcare professionals or first responders, such as those preparing takeout food, grocery store cashiers, delivery drivers, and postal workers, are at risk of experiencing severe mental health conditions. Many of these individuals make only minimum wage and do not have health insurance.

These people deal with the stress of putting themselves and their families at risk, often without the guarantee that they can receive the healthcare they may need. We must recognize that all essential workers are at risk of suffering from PTSD, anxiety, and depression as a result of this ordeal.

Many non-essential workers isolating at home still may suffer mental trauma. We are living through unprecedented experiences. My son is a healthcare professional on the frontlines, and I have trouble sleeping at night thinking of what he is going through. Many of us are suffering the economic effects of being out of work. Parents who have children with disabilities are struggling to get the resources their kids need.

We all know people who are sick or dying because of this virus. Reports of domestic violence incidents have spiked as women and men are trapped at home with their abusive partner. Teenagers, a group highly susceptible to anxiety and depression, are missing out on important milestones, such as prom and graduation.

The needs of these groups must be addressed. We must provide mental health services for employees and those in the community struggling with trauma, anxiety, isolation, and grief over the loss of loved ones. We should work with Employee Assistance Programs [EAP] and must train more primary care providers to address the mental health needs of our nation. These providers can be trained to identify cases, counsel mild to moderately distressed patients, and refer more serious cases to an appropriate specialist.

We need to encourage funding sources, both private foundations and corporations, to contribute to these training programs. By increasing the knowledge base of those in health and allied health positions, we will increase the manpower able to provide services.

Every day that this crisis exists will result in an increase in the need for mental and behavioral interventions for Americans who are suffering. Our country was slow to respond to the crisis. We must make sure not to make that same mistake again when it comes to the mental and emotional health of our communities.

Ann Brancato has decades of experience as a healthcare executive in New York hospitals/human service agencies and is currently a candidate to represent New York’s 9th Assembly District.

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