Local elected officials are uniquely positioned to help their communities manage the economic and health impact of COVID-19 and address the severe chronic inequities exposed by the pandemic. As City Council President, I have witnessed both the challenges and great strengths of our city. As Mayor, I will invest in our public health system to help improve health outcomes and reduce the inequities many of our residents face every day.
Cleveland, like many mid-sized American cities, faces some of the nation’s most entrenched and difficult challenges. Poverty, poor public health, and a lack of consistent investment over the years have exacerbated our community’s public health problems.
An effective public health system impacts more than health – it also directly impacts our systems around the economy and good jobs, housing, food, education and childcare, neighborhood development, and others.
At the time of this writing, the country is still in the midst of the pandemic. Vaccines are available and rolling out, the curve is beginning to flatten, but this heartache will be with us for months to come. By early 2021, Cleveland has lost over 200 residents; Cuyahoga County has lost over 1,160 residents; and, across the state, we’ve lost more than 11,000.
Now, we must act upon the lessons learned from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – and our public officials must lead our community out of this crisis and help prepare us for the next emergency.
In doing so, we can create a more responsive, flexible, and resilient public health and healthcare system. There are plenty of opportunities ahead if we apply the lessons learned as a call to action and roadmap for preparedness.
Response and Recovery
Clevelanders are tough enough to meet any challenge, and our response to this crisis proved that yet again. When called upon to follow the new health policies set by the state, we did not complain – we got to work. Essential workers showed up and got the job done. Healthcare professionals, grocery store employees, food bank staff, police, and EMS were ready. Teachers moved to online, remote instruction. Businesses, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations made changes so that people could work from home.
No other city of our size has the wealth of medical institutions and resources of Cleveland, and we, strategically, put this to use during the crisis. Our systems worked together and adapted to ever-changing guidelines. The hospitals worked with the local public health community to share information, develop protocols, redeploy staff, and set up auxiliary hospital space where needed.
Unfortunately, the public health response to the pandemic also has exposed many weaknesses in the system. It has revealed all the racial and gender inequities that we experience every day, especially for individuals and people of color in lower-income communities.
Sadly, we were not fully prepared – and we must no longer look past known systemic issues and if we hope to fully recover and thrive. Sustainable improvement requires acknowledgement of our weaknesses and building upon our assets.
Leading the City Forward
While this pandemic has exposed racial and income disparities in our health outcomes, these inequities were not caused by the pandemic. We have known for many years that health outcomes in Cleveland are largely determined by one’s zip code. And we cannot continue to tolerate this disparity.
My initiatives to invest in and improve the City’s public health system will include the following:
- Reorganizing the Cleveland Department of Public Health and recruit and retain a high-quality epidemiology team.
- Reinvesting in a public health emergency response program, as we had post-9/11, including alignment with the city’s public safety and emergency services, and our healthcare systems.
- Creating a Health Disparities Advisory Council for the public health department that reflects our hard-working employees, other healthcare workers, hospital leadership, and nonprofit organizations. These people and organizations not only represent traditional public health – but are also responsible for job creation, emergency food distribution, housing justice, business associations, schools and higher education, aging, public transportation, and digital connectivity.
- Investing in additional mental health support services.
- Strengthening and refocusing our “Healthy Cleveland” program to address current needs and emerging public health issues.
- Continuing to strengthen our close working relationship with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and the Ohio Department of Health for seamless public health services across our community.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the defining challenge of our time. Smart cities will take lessons learned and put them into action. Cleveland cannot afford to remain status quo in the wake of this crisis.
We must have the will to build on our strengths and solve the problems that have been hindering our growth long before the pandemic. I will lead our community in doing so.