With the Omicron variant having settled down, it seems like the “health care system” (putting that phrase in quotes because, in the words of a former journalist by the name of Walter Cronkite, I believe it is “neither healthy, caring, nor a system”) can perhaps take a bit of a breather, at least until the next variant. If there is another catastrophic variant, that is, and I hope there won’t be one.
Yet, even if there isn’t another variant, health care systems around the world, including the one in the United States, will in a way be responding to the long-term impacts the pandemic has had on people for years, if not decades, to come. And I am concerned about the American health care system not giving people with said impacts the sort of health care that is required.
But first of all, who are the people with these long-term impacts?
Some of us will possibly be COVID long-haulers who will need physical health care. We are learning more about the long-haulers as we go along, but it may turn out that some will end up with long-term or even permanent impacts that will affect their daily lives due to neurological conditions, among other things. Regardless, the long-haulers are a population that will be dealing with long-term impacts from COVID, quite possibly, long after the pandemic ends.
However, many more of us will be people who need mental health care of various kinds due to the emotional trauma that the circumstances of COVID have caused. A wide range of populations will need this mental health care in some way, shape, or form, ranging from family members who lost loved ones due to the pandemic, to hospital workers who have emotional trauma from working in hard-hit hospitals, to people whose personal economic fortunes turned completely upside down due to the pandemic and never recovered. Dealing with the effects of trauma can be lifelong, and as such, dealing with the effects of COVID-related trauma may also be lifelong.
I have no idea how many people will need COVID-related physical health care and how many will need COVID-related mental health care after the pandemic, but I’m guessing that it will be a sizeable number of people in the United States—perhaps in the hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even in the millions. What I do know is that there will likely be a lot of people who will need one or both things, and that if preparations are not made for that long-term reality now, people are going to be hurt quite badly (physically, emotionally, and otherwise) by how poorly prepared our health care system is, by how American health care has a nasty tendency to leave people either uncovered or undercovered for so many basic needs.
Nor do I know what preparing for such a reality may look like, as I am not a health care expert. Frankly, I’m not even sure if a lot of health care experts know what preparing for such a reality may look like, either. I’m not even sure if it’s possible for a health care “system” as broken as the one in the United States—a “system” where millions are uninsured, where millions more are denied coverage for so many basic needs, and where the politicians that could change this would rather keep the status quo then actually fix these problems—could ever be truly prepared for the potential enormity of caring for scars, both physical and emotional, that come from this pandemic. Possibly not. But if it is possible, those preparations need to happen, and happen now.