Dear American Healthcare Workers,
On behalf of our nation, I am sorry.
I am sorry that we are where we are today with a raging pandemic when free, incredibly effective vaccines are readily available. I am sorry the ICUs and emergency rooms are full with people who did not need to get this sick. I am sorry that selfishness, ignorance, and arrogance has exacerbated this crisis and that you have had to bear the burden of life-and-death battles, hospital bed by hospital bed. I am sorry that elected officials have tried to score political points by stoking anti-science narratives based on lies around this virus, the vaccine, and bogus treatments, while attacking your credibility and service. It is beyond shameful. I am sorry that you have been subjected to verbal and even physical abuse while you have risked your lives and the lives of your families.
I remember in the early days of the pandemic when we would gather nightly in New York to applaud your sacrifice. In those days, there was no vaccine. There was no expectation that there would be any protection anytime soon. And yet, day after day, you went into the fight, trying to save lives. How long ago those days seem now. How much has transpired, some of it hopeful, much of it deeply discouraging.
I would like to believe that the vast majority of Americans value your service, even if they will never know the full horrors you have had to endure. Like soldiers constantly on the frontlines, tour after tour, you have had little time for rest. I understand why you are drained, frustrated, and angry. I understand why many of you may choose to leave a profession that has been your life’s work. In times of war, many glibly thank members of the armed forces for their service, never understanding the full measure of their sacrifice. So is it with you today. We owe you much more than our gratitude. We owe you our lives. And we owe you the freedom that allows us to dream of a healthier future.
It is a cruel irony that those who denigrate basic measures of public health under the misguided banner of “freedom,” have confined you to continued imprisonment in a nightmarish world of endless waves of new cases. And now the enemy has regrouped with a deadlier variant, and once again you are asked to man the battlements and repel the invaders. People who blithely castigated your knowledge and the vaccines now selfishly demand that they get every possible treatment. Their presence in crowded hospitals also means there is less time and fewer beds – if any at all – for you to treat patients with other medical needs, like strokes, trauma, and heart disease. The stress on the system builds.
My hope is that your allies across the country, the tens of millions who have been vaccinated, who are trying to protect others and themselves from the virus, have also had enough. Mask mandates are growing, and politicians who try to ban them are receiving serious pushback. Vaccine mandates are also on the rise. This is all progress. But when the pandemic eventually fades, we will need to more than just acknowledge these measures of necessity. We will need to have a deep introspection, an after-action report, to understand how we pushed our healthcare system to the brink and how we make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
Your heroic service deserves to be long remembered and celebrated. But I suspect, more than anything, you would yearn for the appreciation that comes from the humbling knowledge that our public health demands that we look out for each other, that we do all we can to protect our communities and the broader world. I pledge, and I ask others to do so as well, that we will not let this issue fade as the case numbers hopefully decrease. We must demand of our leaders that they fortify our nation for the public-health battles ahead. We need the press to be engaged and we need every platform that disseminates information to make sure that they ferret out the lies, and promote the truth.
That is the least you deserve.
With deep gratitude,