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Op-Ed: Strong emergency responses require strong hospitals

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This May, National Hurricane Preparedness Week is a timely reminder that disaster can strike at any time.

Whether it’s a health care emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic or a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina, Louisianans know all too well that disasters can happen anytime, anywhere, regardless of our expectations or preparation. That’s why I have devoted my career to supporting communities recovering from crises, as a doctor, a public servant and a volunteer.

For five years, I served on the Louisiana Emergency Response Network, which helps our state prepare for and respond to potential emergency situations. In 2010, I helped assemble 12 medical teams to go to Haiti and provide support after the devastating earthquake.

Then, in 2020, I served on a Louisiana task force to determine the best ways to help our state recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. What I witnessed in all of these positions, throughout the different crises we responded to, is that you cannot provide adequate disaster relief without adequate health care systems and medical support.

Some of our greatest resources in any time of crisis are our local hospitals and health systems. They provide care at all hours of the day to anyone who needs it. We just have to look to the recent COVID-19 pandemic to see how hospitals operated during a crisis.

Even as the rest of the world shut down or slowed down, hospitals remained even more steadfast than ever, providing vital patient care. Across the country, doctors and nurses risked their lives every day to provide crucial care in the midst of an unprecedented public health emergency.

When we need it the most, hospitals are always there to provide real-time support. And in the meantime, hospitals and health systems are always preparing for the next crisis.

Hospitals and their providers are constantly pioneering new treatments, enhancing patient safety, and training new generations of doctors and nurses. And they do that while providing high-quality care to patients every single day.

Our communities need strong hospitals for so many reasons. But our hospitals need us too. Hospitals face an array of challenges like runaway supply costs due to inflation and growing workforce shortages. They’re also often underpaid for the care they provide. Medicare reimbursement rates are historically low, meaning hospitals aren’t fully paid for the care they give patients.

We need Louisiana’s hospitals to be strong and ready for any emergency that comes our way — whether it’s one child having an accident on a playground or a wide-scale public health crisis that no one sees coming. Policymakers must take action now to give hospitals the funding and support they need to continue serving communities across the country when they need it the most.

Dr. Craig Greene is the District 2 commissioner for the Louisiana Public Service Commission.