By Bill Prentice
As I write this message, COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are continuing to rise and health care providers, federal and state officials and private citizens across the country are beginning to come to grips with the magnitude of the response needed to control the spread of the virus and care for those who have been affected.
At ASCA, our sincere sympathy goes out to everyone who lost a friend or family member to this invisible enemy and our hopes for a full recovery go out to all who are still suffering the effects of the virus. Many people, in health care and other professions, have been on the frontlines for many weeks leading the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are providing everything from emergency room care to the labor needed to sustain the nation’s food supply, and we want to recognize and thank them all.
The short amount of time it took for COVID-19 to go from a newly discovered virus that was being given a name for the first time to dictating the daily activities of people around the world is staggering. That also means that everyone involved in response efforts had an extremely limited time to plan and react.
Even before the pandemic was declared, ASCA recognized three important ways the association needed to take action to support the ASC community in its response efforts. First, we knew we needed to be a responsible, reliable source of information to ASCs, sharing important news and resources as soon as they became available. Second, we knew we had to make sure that ASCs were represented in the conversations that federal, state and local officials were having as they developed their response and recovery plans. Third, we knew we had to be able to provide reliable information about ASCs to those coordinating national, state and local response.
Thanks to a strong network of ASC leaders and deep-rooted advocacy ties to state and federal policymakers – developed over many years through the efforts of our members – that ASCA was able to mobilize quickly, provide essential information and help guide the decisions that were made.
As a fuller picture of the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. began to emerge, one of the first steps ASCA took was to create an online COVID-19 Resource Center on ASCA’s website (www.ascassociation.org/covid-19). There, we collected information of all kinds that affected or involved the ASC community’s response. At the beginning, ASCA staff worked 24/7 to update those resources several times a day. New information released from sources that included the federal government, specialty societies, accrediting bodies and ASCA itself was generated quickly and posted to the site as soon as it arrived. We continue to update that site regularly today, although the pace that new information has been arriving has slowed considerably.
At the same time we were compiling these resources, we were working with members of the media to try to make certain that the news about the expanded capacity ASCs could provide and the steps they could take to contribute to the COVID-19 response in the U.S. was being shared in meaningful ways. We also worked with the media to help provide the public with an understanding of what constitutes elective surgery, why ASCs were closing or curtailing operations and the options available for emergent and necessary surgery.
At the same, we were in talks with staff at the White House, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as well as members of Congress and state governors and legislatures across the country. As these officials addressed questions about scope of practice, shared resources and the availability of trained staff, we were able to accurately represent the ASC community’s ability to contribute. When questions arose about financial assistance that might become available, ASCA was there to point to the special needs of ASCs as small businesses and the challenges ASCs will face when they attempt to reopen once the emergency declaration is lifted and operations previously considered normal are once again deemed safe.
All of this time, we were also responding to questions from across the country and around the world from outpatient surgery providers and other health care professionals trying to uncover what was working best, where, when and why? Everyone was trying to anticipate what they needed to prepare for next.
It is still too soon to predict what long-term effects the COVID-19 pandemic will have on our nation’s health care system, our economy and our way of life. All of us still have a lot of work to do to manage the effects of COVID-19 and, as some suggest, prepare for the next time, whether that involves the coronavirus or some other unknown agent.
One thing is clear: without a strong network coordinated through ASCA and supported by the state ASC associations, ASCs across the country could not have responded as quickly or had the same opportunity to provide valuable input into the decisions that were made. As we continue to respond and recover from this pandemic, if you work in an ASC, please make sure your facility is an ASCA member.
If you need help signing up, please contact Mykal Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org.