We are facing a tragic, threatening surge of COVID-19 cases across large parts of the nation, in the midst of a divisive and contested election. A global pandemic is tragedy enough for any nation, but in the U.S. it has also become a political flashpoint.
Healthcare workers have rightly been called heroic for putting themselves at great risk, even as elected leaders have failed to message the public clearly about the urgency of measures that will reduce the spread of the virus, or to provide the equipment and supplies needed to protect healthcare workers and patients.
In the past week, we have been especially unnerved by politically motivated, false statements from President Donald Trump that accuse doctors of profiting from the pandemic. Whatever the outcome of the election, we write in support of clinicians’ extraordinary commitment to our patients and communities. And we write to ensure that everyone working in healthcare knows that healthcare leaders are rising to their defense. We will not let insinuations and outright falsehoods persist without challenge.
There have been suggestions during the president’s campaign rallies that somehow healthcare providers are benefiting from misrepresenting the number of COVID cases. The implication of these statements is that physicians and hospitals are miscoding cases to gain financially. We can assure the public that this is not the case. Physicians and hospitals have suffered financially since the beginning of the pandemic. It can be disheartening to hear comments like these at the very time that clinical teams are making real sacrifices to care for rising numbers of COVID patients. Healthcare leaders across the country are united in clarifying that this is not the case:
American Medical Association President Dr. Susan Bailey made this statement: “Throughout this pandemic, physicians, nurses, and front-line healthcare workers have risked their health, their safety and their lives to treat their patients and defeat a deadly virus. They did it because duty called and because of the sacred oath they took. The suggestion that doctors—in the midst of a public health crisis—are overcounting COVID-19 patients or lying to line their pockets is a malicious, outrageous, and completely misguided charge. COVID-19 cases are at record highs. Rather than attacking us and lobbing baseless charges at physicians, our leaders should be following the science and urging adherence to the public health steps we know work—wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing physical distancing.”
American Hospital Association President Rick Pollack said: “Hospitals, physicians, nurses and caregivers are on the front lines in the battle against COVID. Misleading attacks have been debunked and do a disservice to caregivers fighting the pandemic.”
Many other professional associations have stepped forward too, outraged by these accusations and determined to set the record straight, including the American College of Physicians, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Society of Hospital Medicine and the Council of Medical Specialty Societies.
As new COVID-19 cases climb above 100,000 a day, our nation must rise above political differences and campaign rhetoric to acknowledge the enormous challenge facing our healthcare organizations. Some hospitals are already grappling with inadequate capacity; many others will in the coming weeks. Shortages of tests and of processing capacity have limited communities’ ability to constrain spread. And we are headed into flu season as well. This is no time to be minimizing the risks and tragic losses in our communities, or in any way undermining trust in our doctors and nurses.
Even in the midst of an intensely emotional election process, it is crucial that we all to stand in solidarity with our physicians, nurses and every other member of our healthcare teams. Our communities, no matter what their political views, are fortunate to live in a country with such highly skilled and dedicated professionals. They deserve not suspicion, but boundless gratitude.