New Jersey has learned a lot during the coronavirus pandemic. So will its health care system be better prepared for a crisis in the future?

In the wake of the pandemic, two organizations have released a report that lays out an "action plan," offering 24 recommendations focused on four key areas:

  • Creating and supporting a resilient and diverse health care workforce
  • Increasing the use of new ways to deliver and pay for health care
  • Addressing social determinants of health to achieve greater equality
  • Revitalizing and reorganizing the public health infrastructure

BioNJ, the life-sciences trade association for New Jersey, and the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute note that the pandemic accelerated innovations that should continue beyond the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, it exacerbated existing issues and inequities in New Jersey's health care system.

Linda Schwimmer, president/CEO of the NJHCQI, said the report's findings and suggestions are based on conversations with experts from all sectors of the health care system.

"People feel emotional about this," Schwimmer said. "They really want to see change. They don't want to go through another crisis and have these issues not solved."

A top concern among professionals, she said, was the impact the pandemic has had on the health care workforce in New Jersey. Among other recommendations tackling the same issue, the report calls for making better use of the Medical Reserve Corps, and improving systems to recruit and deploy health care workers more expediently.

The report's recommendations call on New Jersey to move forward with plans to support and guide the growth of telehealth, which expanded in the face of COVID-19 and has kept people connected with medical professionals over the past 13 months. The organizations also want New Jersey to continue with "remote monitoring" of patients in clinical trials.

"Several of our workgroup members cited studies that otherwise would have been paused, that were able to continue with barely a blip," said Debbie Hart, president/CEO of BioNJ.

Emerging from COVID-19: An Action Plan for Healthier State notes that, when compared to national averages, New Jersey ranks 41st among the states for public health expenditures. It suggests that research should be conducted to explore whether the Garden State would "benefit from a regionalized approach, rather than a patchwork of county and local offices." The report calls out the state's public health infrastructure and says there's a need for greater alignment across New Jersey's public health departments.

"A lot of the problems that we had were due to old systems ... and platforms in reporting that really weren't ready to support us in a pandemic," Schwimmer said. "Having better such systems, including an immunization registry, a more comprehensive one, will go a long way in the future to support public health."

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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