Kai Nip

On April 17, the 16th annual Yale Healthcare Conference took place online, shifting from its original focus on affordability to explore issues related to COVID-19. 

Originally planned as a two-day event on healthcare affordability at the Yale School of Management, the conference planning team had to adjust the conference’s format following Yale’s cancellation of in-person gatherings during the COVID-19 outbreak. The conference was organized by a team of graduate students from the School of Management, School of Public Health and School of Nursing. It was reformatted to an abbreviated three-hour live Zoom webinar centered around topics related to the pandemic.

Conference co-chair Alexandra Knopf, SPH ’21 hoped that the shift from a focus on affordability to COVID-19 would resonate with the more than 700 attendees. 

“We’ve tried to intentionally cover different angles [of the pandemic] with a relatively unified flow of content,” Knopf said. “[The team] has come to this revamp with an open mind and a desire to hopefully convey something useful, something interesting to attendees.” 

The highlight was a discussion between POLITICO Pulse reporter Dan Diamond and Dr. Vivek Murthy, the 19th surgeon general of the United States. Opening with a discussion of Murthy’s new book “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World,” the two discussed the impact that loneliness can have on health. Particularly pertinent in the wake of a global pandemic, Murthy spoke of the “social recession” that could result from the stay-at-home orders seen across the nation. 

When asked about the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, Murthy, who was removed from his position as surgeon general by President Trump in 2017, noted that the administration could do a better job at communicating honestly with the public. 

“It’s difficult to respond to a new pathogen while you are learning about it,” said Murthy, “but [public] trust has been damaged in the response.” 

Murthy offered three pieces of advice for the Trump administration moving forward in the pandemic: to rebuild public trust by increasing transparency and acknowledging why guidelines might change as new evidence emerges; to let scientists lead the response instead of politicians; and to get protective gear to all essential workers, from doctors and nurses to grocery and post office workers.

Protecting vulnerable populations was a common theme throughout the conference including special consideration for those who are homeless, impoverished or addicted. Representatives from various local nonprofits described the activities underway to ensure vulnerable New Haven residents still have the resources they need during the pandemic, including hot to-go meals, medication delivery and medical care coordination.

“Our most effective response [to the epidemic] has been to continue operating,” said Evan Serio of Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen.

Additionally, there was a discussion on the prevalence of fake news during the outbreak, moderated by Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News. During the talk, Dr. James Hamblin, lecturer at the School of Public Health and staff writer for The Atlantic, discussed journalists’ duty to accurately convey information to the public with Diamond. Amid the false or misleading information about COVID-19, Diamond and Hamblin agreed that it is hard for the public to know what to believe or how to best protect themselves.

“People are forced to make decisions with imperfect knowledge,” Hamblin said.

Echoing the issue of missing information in the current pandemic, Katherine Baicker, Dean of the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, explained that policymakers cannot wait to introduce new solutions to healthcare needs given the speed of the virus’ spread. Her closing keynote address centered around expanding health insurance coverage for basic services in the age of COVID-19 to increase equitable access to healthcare.

“Policymakers need to act now,” Baicker said. “They cannot always wait for the perfect evidence.”

There are now more than 740,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States according to the CDC.

Savannah Kucera | savannah.kucera@yale.edu