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An Urgent Message from Physician Leaders of the Washington Health Alliance

One of the great privileges we have at the Washington Health Alliance (Alliance) is setting the table for meaningful conversation between colleagues and key stakeholders who share a common interest in delivering the best health care possible to residents of Washington state. We are fortunate to have physician leaders focused on ensuring patient safety, delivering high quality care, and improving the health of populations within their organizations, who take the time to come together as members of the Alliance’s Quality Improvement Committee (QIC). In their most recent meeting on August 12th, we invited their input on the continuing challenges COVID-19 represents. On their behalf and at their urging, we are sharing this conversation more broadly as they opened up to one another about their greatest fears, challenges, and frustrations presented by the ongoing persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We hope that you will take the time to read and hear the urgent message that they are sending. While our current situation is extremely challenging, including the possibility that what we are facing may be worse than the earliest days of COVID-19, these clinicians were clear and consistent in their shared view that each of us can play a meaningful role in mitigating the current threats.

The balance of this urgent message to the valued members of the Washington Health Alliance community represents the voices of these passionate clinicians and what they want all of us to know about the realities of the continuing COVID pandemic. Most importantly, they describe the ways each of us can ACT NOW to mitigate its continued hold on us.

Here’s what they want you to know!

  1. The Delta variant is different!
    • It is more transmissible than the earlier variants. We cannot let our guard down.
    • It is impacting everyone – not just the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions. More children and otherwise healthy adults who are infected with the Delta variant are experiencing significant illness that requires hospitalization – especially those who are unvaccinated.
    • There is a strong likelihood of seeing other more serious and more contagious variants emerge if we do not adequately address the Delta variant. In an environment where Delta is spreading among all people, it is imperative to get all people vaccinated immediately to prevent the emergence of a new vaccine-resistant variant.
  2. Health care organizations are stretched to their limits.
    • Everyone has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but few have experienced its ravages and impact as much as health care workers. We are losing frontline workers to burnout, despair, quarantine and, most alarmingly, to COVID-19 illness.
    • The full range of health care needs, including hospital occupancy, is up and staffing is very challenging.
    • We have been living with and through COVID-19 for more than 18 months. We all understand restaurants and other businesses are struggling to attract and retain workers. Health care organizations sitting at the epicenter of this continued pandemic are also experiencing extraordinary challenges attracting and retaining the necessary workforce – especially in light of the current surge in hospitalizations.
  3. Your actions make a difference!
    • The pandemic will not be controlled until and unless as many people as possible are vaccinated. The most important thing you can do is get vaccinated! If you have concerns, talk with a trusted health care provider.
    • Vaccination alone is not enough! Clinical evidence shows that it is safest to continue to employ all of the well-established practices that mitigate the spread of viruses – masking, hand-washing, and social distancing, even if you are fully vaccinated.
    • If you have non-COVID health care concerns, please get the care you need and consider a virtual visit if appropriate. Hospitals are not only taxed by the needs of COVID patients, but they are also seeing sicker patients with other conditions who have not been receiving all of the needed care over the last 18 months. If you have doubts or questions, reach out to your health care provider for guidance. You can also find many useful references online, including information on the Own Your Health site maintained by the Alliance.
    • If your health care needs can be met without an in-person visit, please consider all of your options including virtual and/or telephonic visits with your health care provider. Many common acute and chronic conditions can be managed through virtual visits with your health care team. Utilization of telehealth has grown significantly during the pandemic and there is strong evidence for its use for many conditions. These include, but are not limited to:
      • Psychologist and psychiatrist visits
      • Medication assisted treatment of opioid use disorder
      • Heart failure monitoring
      • Dermatological concerns that do not require a biopsy
      • Physical therapy
      • Most acute (short-term) minor illnesses, such as sinusitis and urinary tract infections
      • Most other stable, well-managed chronic conditions, such as diabetes and asthma, without any “red flag” symptoms or concerns

Never have our fates been more inextricably linked to one another. How we each choose to act individually has rarely been as important to one another’s well-being as it is in this moment. The clinical leaders listed below are personally asking for your support. Please take their message to heart and share it with others.

Mary Anderson, MD
Chief Clinical Integration and Quality Officer
The Polyclinic, Part of Optum
Leong Koh, MD
VP Quality, Care Experience, and Patient Safety
Kaiser Permanente Northwest
Alka Atal-Barrio, MD
Chief Medical Officer, Administration
The Everett Clinic, Part of Optum
Cat Mazzaway, RN, MSN
Senior Director
Washington State Hospital Association
Patricia Auerbach, MD
Chief Medical Officer, Northwest Region
United Healthcare
Martin Levine, MD
Chief Medical Officer
The Polyclinic, Part of Optum
Edwin Carmack, MD
Medical Director of Quality
Confluence Health
Mike Myint, MD
Physician Executive, Multicare Connected Care
Multicare Health System
Kavita Chawla, MD
Chair of EBM Education Committee
Virginia Mason Franciscan Health
Drew Oliveira, MD
Senior Executive Medical Director
Regence BlueShield
Sharon Eloranta, MD
Quality Manager
Vera Whole Health
Komal Patil-Sisodia, MD
Ambulatory Quality Officer
EvergreenHealth
Frances Gough, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Molina Health Care of Washington
Jessica Schlicher, MD
Medical Director
CHI Franciscan Health
Kim Herner, MD
Chief Quality Officer
UW|Valley Medical Center
Paul Sherman, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Community Health Plan of Washington
Rick Hourigan, MD
Market Medical Executive, Pacific Northwest
Cigna
Hugh Straley, MD
Chair
The Dr. Robert Bree Collaborative
Steve Jacobson, MD
Medical Director
Premera Blue Cross
Julie Stroud, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Optum Care Network WA
Matt Jaffy, MD
Associate Medical Director, North Region
UW Neighborhood Clinics | UW Medicine
John Vassall, MD
Physician Executive for Quality, Safety, and Equity
Comagine Health
Dan Kent, MD
Chief Medical Officer
UnitedHealthcare Community & State – Washington

Published: August 17, 2021

About Washington Health Alliance

The Washington Health Alliance is a place where stakeholders work collaboratively to transform Washington state’s health care system for the better. The Alliance brings together organizations that share a commitment to drive change in our health care system by offering a forum for critical conversation and aligned efforts by stakeholders: purchasers, providers, health plans, consumers and other health care partners. The Alliance believes strongly in transparency and offers trusted and credible reporting of progress on measures of health care quality and value. The Alliance is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit with more than 185 member organizations. A cornerstone of the Alliance's work is the Community Checkup, a report to the public comparing the performance of medical groups, hospitals and health plans and offering a community-level view on important measures of health care quality (www.wacommunitycheckup.org).

One Response to “An Urgent Message from Physician Leaders of the Washington Health Alliance”

  1. Rick Cooper

    The Covid Urgent Message was very well done. If not already considered/done, I’d suggest an open letter on the Op Ed page of the Seattle Times.

    Reply
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