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By Ewa Matuszewski

“If they close a door, go through the window. If the window is closed, check the chimney.” When faced with an obstacle, these were the words of wisdom from my mother, a native of Poland who spent time in a displaced persons’ camp after World War II. While I haven’t gone down the chimney yet, I’ve certainly gone through many windows in the past year. So now, a look back.

Mid-March 2020 adds another meaning to the famed Ides of March, which alternatively refers to the assassination of Julius Caesar, a lunar celebration in ancient history marking a new year, or simply a very bad omen – which would fittingly describe a looming pandemic. One year in, it is still with us, although it appears we have tamed the beast to a significant degree, thanks to multiple effective COVID-19 vaccination options. My mind wanders down various paths when I think of all that I have learned or observed, yet several words or phrases capture the essence of my observations: leadership, partnerships, trust, bureaucracy, and patient advocacy. I highlight key take-aways:

  • Leadership: Its definition is broad and varied, but true leaders didn’t wait to be asked; they took charge. Whereas typical times may have presented bureaucratic roadblocks to nimble decision-making, pandemic leaders, whether they be physicians, advanced practice providers, administrators, public health experts, community leaders or employees in the trenches, weren’t deterred by perceived barriers; they made smart and bold decisions and were willing to be held accountable for them.
  • Partnerships: The time to form partnerships is not during a crisis. As advocates of the Patient-Centered Medical Home-Neighborhood know, a connected healthcare community with an ecosystem of community partners – from social service agencies and behavioral health organizations to pharmacies, houses of worship, community organizations, and everything in between – is a prepared, proactive and effective healthcare community. The well-partnered were quick to respond to immediate needs, especially for the most vulnerable among us. If you found your practice or organization lacking a strong partnership network, act now to establish one.
  • Professional relationships: Like partnerships, they must be cultivated and nurtured. They are founded in trust, shared values and a mutual or complementary mission and don’t exist to receive attention or accolades but to get stuff done, in purpose for health.

I want to acknowledge here both new and longstanding partnerships as we continue to journey together to healthier, happier days; I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize some of them:

  • Judson Center Health’s integrated primary care clinic, led by the fearless Liz Haberkorn, MSN, FNP-BC, pivoted to virtual care relatively early in the game, offering patients both in-person and telehealth primary and behavior healthcare options to slow the spread and ease the concerns of those needing care who were not able to leave home – or rightfully too fearful to do so.
  • The Salvation Army – Harbor Light Macomb County with Captain Jamie Winkler at the helm helping those in acute or ongoing crisis and offering programs to the local community.
  • Nik Hamady, MD and his team at Honor Community Health, who embraced the Pontiac neighborhood with support and services. I think Nik’s favorite question is, “How can I help?”
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan – Value Partnerships, for its unfailing support of federally qualified health centers and public health needs and putting the pandemic before profits.
  • Joe Gorz, DO, a rising star in the primary care community who must know Nik Hamady, based on his eagerness to always step up and be part of the solution.
  • To our fellow independent physician organizations (GLPN, GMPN, HVPA, IHP, Olympia, and OPNS), thank you for coming together as a coalition to share ideas, resources, and, of course, PPE.

What are your lessons learned from the pandemic? If this column causes you to pause and reflect, I hope you will reach out to those colleagues, collaborators, employees, and professional confidants who helped guide or support your decision making in annus horribilis – which hopefully turns into annus mirabilis.