Health System Resilience

Health care leaders share biggest fears, hopes amid COVID-19

Gabriel Perna | April 3, 2020

At Health Evolution’s Pandemic Response: A Public-Private Call to Action virtual gathering, leading CEOs, C-Suite leaders, and health industry stakeholders from government, health care provider, payer and life science organizations were consistent.  

There are a lot of reasons to be worried about COVID-19. There are also a lot of reasons to be hopeful. This pandemic has a devastating ripple effect that has begun to shake the American health system to its core. It’s also an opportunity to reinvent the health care system on a permanent basis to one that is patient-centered and more efficient.  

Here’s what some of the discussion leaders at our gathering had to say about what keeps them up at night and what has them feeling optimistic about COVID-19.  

Mike Leavitt, Founder, Leavitt Partners; Former Governor, Utah; Former HHS Secretary 

Concern: Supply chain issues [have me concerned]. Deputy secretary [Mandy Cohen] mentioned the fact that there are substantial reasons to be concerned about our capacity domestically to manufacture many of the countermeasures that we need and will need once a vaccine is developed. That keeps me up.  

The second thing that has me worried is how can we help American businesses who are navigating not just the economics of this, but the uncertainty? How can we provide [them] the sense of certainty that they need to begin to move forward? We can become frozen in uncertainty if we don’t begin to, at some point, give people something they can manage around and model. 

Hopeful: We are taking on a common enemy and we are responding with astonishing speed. This is especially true when you think about the nature of how complicated it is to implement anything on a national basis. Yes, there’s imperfection, but we are clearly directionally right on this and we’re getting better by the day. I think we ought not to miss in [recognizing] how good we have been as a country so far. 

Mark Laret, President & CEO, UCSF 

ConcernWhat worries me the most is how we perform through the marathon as Larry [Jameson] refers to it. We’re still in the early excitement stage here. We’re mobilizing, but there’s a wall I’m afraid that we will hit at some point where our staff, our communities, everybody [becomes weary] of self-isolation and the challenge of all this. I think this is going to take every bit of leadership that any, and all, of us have to help us through that period.  

Hopeful: What’s optimistic to me is it’s been a hard way to learn a lesson, but we’ve learned a lot of lessons. We’re going to learn a lot more. I hope that when we come out of this on the other side, the public health infrastructure is a whole lot stronger. I hope we will have reduced the challenge of the haves and have-nots in this health care sector. All of us [need to] take the view that we’re responsible, not only for our own operations, but we’re responsible for the health of the community at large. I think we’re moving in that direction and that’s what I’m most hopeful about. 

Larry Jameson, MD, Dean, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania  

Concern: I’m most worried about the health of our health care workers. I think our ability to model the disease spread, when the surge will happen and how high it will go, that’s relatively predictable. It’s less predictable whether we’re going to have some of our nurses and doctors and hospital staff either get infected or need to go on quarantine. That could be a really challenging circumstance if those numbers go up. I’m worried about them personally and for the sake of the system. We’re doing everything we can to protect against that happening. 

We are taking on a common enemy and we are responding with astonishing speed. This is especially true when you think about the nature of how complicated it is to implement anything on a national basis. 

Mike Leavitt, Leavitt Partners, Former HHS Secretary, Former Governor of Utah

Hopeful: I think our health care system will be better as [Mark Laret] indicated and we will have better infrastructure, we’ll have a stronger [Centers for Disease Control], hopefully better funded and reinvented. We will be thinking more about these supply chains in a different way. We’ll think differently about the infrastructure for our health systems and how we collaborate across them. I think we’re also going to innovate in a different way for clinical trials, for vaccine development. There are some new technologies for vaccines, and I think they can, and will, be rolled out more quickly in the future. Finally, I think the culture of medicine is going to shift here. We’re going to see payers and providers think differently about volume line incentives around things like telehealth.  

Francis deSouza, President & CEO, Illumina 

ConcernWe need a national, if not an international, approach to pandemics. An early warning of an outbreak playing out in a fish market somewhere matters to all of us. I want to make sure that we come away with that because it’s been pointed out as people feel more threatened and the disease takes hold of a region, there will be a tendency to look inward and distance yourself from the rest of the world.  

That’s exactly the wrong answer. The takeaway here is we need this global interconnected capability to understand these outbreaks, to share information quickly. It’s essential that we put that into place. What happens in Africa matters. What happens in Asia matters for all of us and we should we have a financial interest to make that happen and we should lean into that. 

HopefulIt is remarkable to see the community come together. The research collaborations the sharing of resources and the sharing of data. People are doing the right thing and worrying about everything else later. That is unprecedented. We’re changing laws…we’re breaking every paradigm to move as quickly as we can and frankly that’s inspiring and gives me a lot of hope. The other thing that gives me hope is it’s becoming clear we have a set of new and powerful tools across the board. We have the technology today to move at a pace that we could have frankly never done before.  

Amy Abernethy, MD, Principal Deputy Commissioner, FDA 

Concern: The thing we’re not talking about is what does this pandemic increase the risk of from outside of the health care space? I’m usually the optimist in the room, but we’re seeing more risk of cyberattacks. We’re seeing issues of fraudulent medical products and health care services. We must be able to watch our flanks and recognize that at a time when we’re all focused on a common enemy, other enemies can creep up from the side. We have to make sure that we’re paying attention to that as well.  

Hopeful: What’s given me the most hope has been the sense of community and people pulling together. We all understand that we’ve got a massive road in front of us and that each person is trying to figure out how to solve that in their own way. What’s also gives me hope that in times of urgency is more innovation. At all times, we want to make sure that we balance hope, energy and enthusiasm with making sure we understand the risks and downsides, so that we maintain and focus on the things that are going to be the most helpful.  

About the Author

Gabriel Perna, Senior Manager, Digital Content

Gabriel Perna is the Senior Manager of Digital Content at Health Evolution. He brings 10+ years of experience in covering the intersection of health care and business. Previously, he was at Chief Executive, Physicians Practice and Healthcare Informatics. You can reach him via email at or on Twitter at @GabrielSPerna