How COVID-19 can prompt a reset on leadership for better health

Volunteers hand out fresh produce boxes at a food bank amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 10, 2020.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RC2L6H9LCYKK

Collaboration has been crucial on every level to respond to the pandemic Image: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RC2L6H9LCYKK

Nancy Brown
Chief Executive Officer, American Heart Association
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During this fast-moving COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are faced with a unique set of challenges summed up in one word: uncertainty.

Navigating these uncertain waters requires leaders to be nimble and deliver on their mission in innovative ways, while envisioning a new normal on the other side. COVID-19 has magnified vulnerabilities in our systems and society. Although surrounded by serious health and economic implications, I am inspired by seeing the best in humanity come forward.

One silver lining of the pandemic is that crisis often fuels innovation. Organizations are jumping in with unique contributions. Leaders at the forefront of the COVID-19 response are bringing together the best medical minds to move at an extraordinary pace on vaccines, treatments and digital/telehealth, while others have pivoted to solve supply chain challenges, manufacturing ventilators or making personal protective equipment (PPE), and much more.

The Beneficial Business Exchange - convened by my organization - is a self-service virtual community that matches urgent needs with critical resources during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The human spirit prevails as people creatively solve problems and inspire others. Small businesses sew and donate face masks. Restaurant owners turn their kitchens into food kitchens for the hungry. Church groups pay childcare expenses for essential workers in their communities. Neighbors deliver food and medicines to the vulnerable.

I have witnessed generosity firsthand through our supporters, volunteers and collaborators taking care of the most vulnerable populations.

The vision of the AHA CEO Roundtable has never been more relevant, with employers at the forefront of the COVID-19 response. These leaders are driving innovative solutions to this global pandemic with therapeutic, economic, and community-based solutions that are having significant impact. From payment deferrals for people and businesses facing economic hardships, multi-million and billion relief funds established, to shepherding vaccine development and ensure adequate treatments, CEOs in all industries are stepping up and scaling up. They are prioritizing their people by refining employee health benefits and providing resources to enhance physical and mental health while working from home.

As a nonprofit health care organization, we are also taking a stand on social justice issues because there is clear evidence supporting the link between racial injustice and poor health.

Through research, advocacy and education, we are striving to mitigate the disproportionate impact of COVID-19, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic diseases that burden black and brown communities. We are heartbroken by the events occurring across our country. It is not enough to sit on the sidelines and lament the brutality playing out across our nation. We must stand together as a force for a world of longer, healthier lives for all. That is our mission and our contribution to a more equitable society.

As we think about reopening workplaces and restarting societies, the overall health, safety and security of our employees, families and communities is a pressing concern. Leaders will be called upon to build resiliency amidst a mental health outbreak that many are predicting as the pandemic disrupts daily life. CEOs and leaders will also need to think about the very latest science and public health as they plan to reopen. Leadership demands resilience.

While there is no denying the complexity of managing through crisis, leaders can find clarity by testing every decision against touchstones that define their culture.

People with underlying health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and a history of stroke, are at a higher risk of contracting and experiencing complications of COVID-19. Many of these conditions affect the black and Latino communities at higher rates. This pandemic has shined a bright light on all the work that needs to be done to address health care disparities.

Will we ever be the same on the other side of this pandemic? I hope not. I believe we will emerge transformed, discovering new ways to tackle our challenges.

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