• The COVID-19 pandemic is a wakeup call that reveals how fragile we are as a society.
  • Healthcare workers are a fundamental part of the safety net for our communities.
  • Support from local communities is inspiring and sustaining health care workers.
  • Shifting to a hopeful perspective helps some front-line health care workers cope with the somber scenes of the pandemic. 

Video Transcript


DR. JOHN WHYTE: You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. I had the opportunity to sit down with Michael Dowling and Bob Brisco to talk about how people on the frontline are combating the COVID epidemic.

Michael talks about the heroism and integrity of his staff, as well as how the support of the local community is sustaining them in this fight. In the last segment, he shares his optimism that exists even in the setting of this crisis.

BOB BRISCO: Michael, this is incredibly inspiring. I think the way you all have handled this at, you know, the epicenter of where the crisis has hit from all the perspectives, the, the leadership, leadership with the, um, employees and the HCPs, the leadership in the community. What-- if you had a wish or two going forward now, what-- what would they be?

MICHAEL DOWLING: Well, one is that-- that each of us reflect on what this means. Um, it, it was a massive demonstration to me of how fragile we are, that, you know, three months ago, we were strong. The economy was great. We were all doing pretty well. We were going to the restaurants, going to the bars, having social occasions, feeling very comfortable. Nothing could disrupt us.

And all of a sudden, something comes along that we can't see or touch. And everything is disrupted, no cars on the highways, people staying at home, and nurses, doctors doing things they never thought they would be doing ever before.

And all of us having to rethink about what does this mean? What's important in life? What kind of a different perspective will we all have about relationships in the future, associations in the future? Um, for our business, how do we retrofit our business? How do we redefine our businesses going forward now?

It also demonstrated one other thing, that I know with the-- we realize that the people who suffered the most during this crisis were, no surprise, people with underlying public health conditions, obesity, um, hypertension, diabetes, in swaths of the community all around us. And it poses the question, how do we change to deal with those underlying social issues that sometimes don't get the attention that they should have gotten in the way we did business prior. So how do we address those?

It's more-- it's more than medical. We're not just-- we are a health system. But we folk have been traditionally focusing on medical issues. We've got to be transitioning ourselves more to be health, where medical is a component of it. And the public health aspect of what we do has to be dramatically accelerated. And I hope that this is not something we think about now because we are-- we are-- indeed, we're in the middle of the problem, but that we think about after we get out of this so that we can deal with the prevention aspects of health going forward.

But more fundamentally, what I said at the beginning is I think it-- it-- all of us should be thinking about what-- what's our new perspective? What's-- what's our new role in the world going forward because we have been in the midst of something extraordinary?

BOB BRISCO: There's a theme of renewal that I can hear in-- in your voice that I think is extremely attractive, inspiring, about how we get through this the best we can.

MICHAEL DOWLING: Yeah, without-- you know, you have a religious experience as you go through this. You know, in many ways, it-- you know, as I walked through the hospital, when I walked through the ICUs, um, and I've been in the hospitals, as all of you have, so many times. Typically, you're going through a hospital, even a higher-- in tertiary, quaternary hospital, it's busy. There are patients very sick. There are patients somewhat sick. There are patients ready to go home. There are visitors. There are families in the rooms.

Now you walk into the hospital, if you went across the street from where I am into our big tertiary today, quiet, no visitors, everybody's sick. It's like a living morgue, if that's the right term, rows and rows of people on ventilators with 50% to 60% mortality potential, staff in-- in masks and gowns and shields. It's an eerie, eerie feeling. And you walk by, and if you're not thinking differently about the world, there is something wrong with you. You'll come out of there a different person.

DR. JOHN WHYTE: How has it changed you, Michael? You-- you actually have on your LinkedIn profile as part of your occupation, "health care optimist." So how has that perspective impacted how you're dealing with this epidemic?

MICHAEL DOWLING: Well, I-- I think it gives you the sense of hope and optimism. It's a kick in the butt. You know, we get a kick in the butt every so often. It wakes you up. And you ask yourself, OK, I've been working hard before. I'd been doing a lot of innovative things before. Um, I can sit back and take the accolades about the great successes we've had. But then you say to yourself, it's time to rethink and raise the bar. We can do more because we have to.

Uh, and we are fundamental to the safety net in these communities. If anything ever-- if anything has changed here, it's health-- hospitals and health care workers and hospitals sometimes get a lot of criticism. We're used to it. But in a time like this, you are the essential, um, protectors of the community at a time like this. There's a good feel about it. Um, we have to change, but we got to maintain that level of trust, and rethink everything about what it is we do.

And uh, yeah, you know, we've been dealing obviously in this crisis with lots of levels of government. And, uh, you know, government likes to get everybody else to unify. Uh, I would like government to unify so that we can have less craziness going forward. But overall, uh, to me, there's-- when I see the employees, the front line workers and what they do every day, there is no limit to what I believe we can do.