The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis has taught us many important lessons that should guide us in the decisions we make as we put an order in, and add value to our lives — individually and as members of society. The disruption that it has caused has removed deterrents and distractions that we had to live within the decades that preceded it — the old normal that defines us as a people and explains why we are where we are.
We all have our own stories to tell, but none more compelling than stories of triumph — of life over death, resilience over fear, human kindness over greed and indifference, and enlightened leadership over mediocrity and bigotry.
COVID-19 has shown us many silver linings and provides opportunities for leadership to those who have an accurate appreciation of reality. Unless we give ourselves the time to reflect deeply on what has happened, we will just remember the fear, pain and inconvenience, and miss out on why humanity is so inspiring.
“ The months in-between have been a blur, punctuated by the human drama of fear and loss, grit and joy, relentless work and little rest. ”
My team and I started 2020 with a lot of confidence and enthusiasm, eager to build on our achievements in 2019 and to start the year right. The Medical City enterprise — all of five hospitals and 50 ambulatory clinics in the country — was evolving, gunning for an agile and integrated network through digital transformation, establishing its footprint in the health ecosystem by pursuing innovative programs in partnership with LGUs, whose leaders saw health as central to human development. We had the usual challenges to hurdle, resistance to address, and old ways to discard, but there was a lot going for us — the momentum for change was accelerating.
Now, seven months later, we are nowhere near our financial targets for the year at midpoint, but what we have achieved is so different from what we had planned. Something out-of-the-ordinary happened and we found purpose and pride by serendipity! The months in-between have been a blur, punctuated by the human drama of fear and loss, grit and joy, relentless work and little rest.
The strength of character and resiliency that we did not see before the crisis presented themselves, unshackled from the job designs that had limited our expectations of our employees. The crisis removed the blinders to the promise of the future, provided by the young; in the same light, it exposed the helplessness of those who could not move forward because of fear.
“ In the frenzy of life-and-death situations and threats to one’s health, the power of the collective emerged. ”
What is happening now is a journey of discovery that reveals to us a more profound understanding of ourselves, and sets us up with more clarity for bigger things ahead. In the intervening months, we were faced with fear and uncertainty — legitimate and otherwise — perpetuated and propagated by some media outlets that, while seeking to inform, also obfuscate.
One day at a time, we confronted the overwhelming number of severely ill patients in our ICU, the spillover of very sick patients in the ER, the physical and psychological exhaustion of our frontliners, and the threat of a rapidly dwindling supply of PPEs.
In the frenzy of life-and-death situations and threats to one’s health, the power of the collective emerged. Doctors finally saw the value of forming into teams, and acceded to the convenience of group practice, anathema to the lone-wolf practice model that has persisted through the years and which contributes to the high healthcare costs and unhappy patient experiences. If and when alone, a health worker’s fear is magnified; as part of a team driven by adrenaline, sweat and tears under those PPEs to get things done and save lives, that fear disappears.
“ It has led us to discover that so many things that we have been doing are irrelevant and of little value, that life is short and death ends it quickly. This crisis has exposed the inadequacies in our health system, the ineptness of the decision-makers, and the wasted opportunities for genuine leadership. ”
With fear, emotions are on overdrive; decisions become flawed. Without fear, no time is wasted, and the outcomes are invariably positive. Indeed, it is through fear that a person’s true character is unmasked. It is through empathy and open communication, the experience of being a member of a team, that the wants of one come second to the needs of many. It brings to the fore the necessity to evolve our mindsets from the individual to the institutional, from a mishmash of ideas to the coherence of a well-told story. Indeed, from an ordinary snapshot to an extraordinary tapestry — of a health system in motion.
COVID-19 has removed cobwebs from our minds that used to obstruct a clear vision of what lies ahead. It has led us to discover that so many things that we have been doing are irrelevant and of little value, that life is short and death ends it quickly. This crisis has exposed the inadequacies in our health system, the ineptness of the decision-makers, and the wasted opportunities for genuine leadership.
We know now that the political leaders of many countries are ordinary people just like us, and being first-world or third-world has absolutely nothing to do with their capacity to think clearly. Fear, if not ignorance and incompetence, shows in the ways they decide, communicate and behave. They proceed from what they believe in, and it may not have anything to do with facts or science.
Our decisions and behavior emanate from what we believe. I believe that everything is interconnected, that interdependence is what would make us surmount and survive this crisis. I believe that we are undergoing a period of profound cleansing, that what will come out of this is renewal, a chance to reboot, to embrace the new and discard the irrelevant. Courage and resilience require us to be present, in the here-and-now despite fear and uncertainty. The best versions of humanity will always be there when we need help, and even when help is not sought.
Our national leaders do not know more — and, in fact, may know less — than we do in matters of health and technology, and that’s okay, for as long as they do not arrogate to themselves the mischief of an alternate reality.
In the end, there can only be a good thing if and when we communicate clearly, share scientific knowledge, and collaborate with everyone else towards a common goal: health for the Filipino people.
The coronavirus transmission can be prevented by wearing a mask, observing physical distancing, and washing of hands. We will win over it by removing the mask that hides our humanity, shortening the distance between the truth and the lie, and getting our hands wet in the service of our fellowmen.
With newfound confidence that no longer quakes at every reminder that things can go awry, the Medical City enterprise stands ready for the next wave of the COVID-19 crisis. As their leader, I say that with conviction.
Edited by Tanya T. Lara