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September 28, 2022

Business Leaders Agree: Act Now to Prepare for a Future Pandemic

Stephen Massey

Act Now to Prepare for a Future Pandemic

As debate swirls over whether the COVID-19 pandemic is “over,” the more important question employers should be asking is: What are we doing now to prepare for what’s next?

After all, COVID-19 won’t be the last major health threat we encounter. So, just as we would do after other types of crises, we need to take stock of what we’ve learned from this one to be ready for what’s to come.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that the health of a business and its people extends well beyond the walls of the workplace. During a public health emergency, poor community health conditions make people more vulnerable to serious illness and death — with devastating effects on business.

At our Pandemic Preparedness Summit last week, leaders from Bank of America, the Walt Disney Company, the White House and more shared practical advice and lessons learned to help you strengthen workplace and community health in advance of the next emergency.

This direct link between community health and the health of your business became very clear during COVID-19, and it will be the case going forward. Companies with workforces who live, play and pray in healthier communities will fare better when the next pandemic strikes. So, businesses would be well served to invest not just in their own teams and workplaces, but also in the communities where they operate. 

Here are the actions our expert speakers recommend:

Dr. Matthew Hepburn, Senior Advisor, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • “If we’re not in the midst of an emergency response, that’s our time to build trust.” He added that employers can build trust through action — like routine vaccination programs for flu and other common diseases, paid sick leave, and creating easy access to testing, not just for COVID-19 but other medical issues, too.
  • The C-suite can lead by example by getting vaccinated, communicating that it’s important to do so and communicating how your companies are looking out for the health of your employees and their families.

Dr. Pam Hymel, Chief Medical Officer, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products

  • At Disney, the Zika virus outbreaks of 2015-16 got their teams well-versed in observing emerging threats, then tabletop planning a response. Dr. Hymel’s advice: practice scenario planning now, put protocols in place, but stay nimble to be able to adjust to the advice from local and national public health experts.
  • Partnerships with public health departments — established before an emergency — are also key. “One of the things that was really important was keeping an open dialogue and being willing to do what the local health departments wanted and required.”
  • You can also put those relationships to work by sharing information or offering your company’s unique strengths — even, as in Disney’s case, your intellectual property and marketing expertise to help health departments get important messages out to the public.

Dr. Kris Box, Indiana State Health Commissioner

  • “When we talk about what businesses can do to formalize this relationship [going forward], I think it’s being at the table within their particular communities and using data to determine — with public health [departments], clinical health [providers], not-for-profit organizations, elected officials — what are those particular health issues that they want to address? Then working with evidence-based, data-informed programming to be able to implement that in the community… That will be what positions us for the healthy workforce we need in the next pandemic.”

Dr. Brian C. Castrucci, President & CEO, de Beaumont Foundation

  • “Health and business share the same goal: We both want healthy people thriving economically in exceptional communities.” But he adds, even if you have robust workplace health offerings, much of your healthcare costs are coming from spouses, retirees and kids — and they’re not getting the benefits of your workplace wellness programs. “So the future of workplace wellness is engaging with your health department to ensure the best community health available.”
  • “We spend so much time focusing on individual health. Think of it like a fishbowl. We do so much for the fish that we ignore cleaning the tank or changing the water. We have to do those things or, eventually, all the fish die.” Using the example of Kansas City, where businesses banded together to successfully advocate for raising the age for tobacco purchases, he encourages small, medium and large employers to work together to push for policies that support good health.
  • “Google your local health commissioner. Reach out and talk to them. Every health department in this nation needs to have a business council.”

Ebony Thomas, President, Bank of America Charitable Foundation

  • “We’re helping our employees be healthy by supporting the communities in which they live and work.” That support includes two major investments announced this year: $40 million to expand primary care access and a $25 million partnership with the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association to improve health outcomes for communities of color in 11 cities.
  • Improving health in these communities is good business for Bank of America. “Data tells us the same factors that align with health equity directly connect with economic mobility.”
  • Finally, don’t wait to be invited to get to work on community health. “Just start.”

Start creating your own action plan using our new, step-by-step Pandemic Preparedness Plan for Business.