“Investment in the people and services that keep our communities healthy is critical,” said Dr. Navarra Rodriguez, Chief Medical Officer at Advantage Care Physicians on a recent panel discussion hosted by PCDC as a special briefing for New York State lawmakers.
Moderated by PCDC CEO, Louise Cohen, the briefing featured a conversation between three primary care providers from across New York State in which they each shared their experiences providing care throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and thoughts on how to improve primary care moving forward. The event was kicked off with opening remarks from the chairs of the Assembly and Senate Health Committees, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera.
“If I had more support, there is a lot more I could do at my level for patients,” said Dr. Lalita Abhyankar, who is a full-time attending physician at the Institute for Family Health in Brooklyn. Both Abhyankar and Rodriguez spoke to the challenges of providing care to largely minority race populations and the disparate impact the pandemic has had on those communities.
Dr. Abhyankar emphasized that one of the biggest challenges facing the health system today is finding a way to successfully combat COVID-19 while still ensuring the other parts of health care – the management of chronic diseases that primary care providers do best – is sustained. To do that, she says, more focus and attention on the importance of primary care is needed.
“What would happen if we had a health system without primary care? It would be a disaster,” posited Dr. John Rugge, founder and Executive Chairman of the Hudson Headwaters Health Network. Dr. Rugge continued by stating that our current health system is halfway there – that we currently drastically underfund primary care, which results in increased costs and poorer health outcomes.
The three providers discussed policy strategies for expanding access to and improving the quality of primary care given the lessons learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic thus far. Dr. Abhyankar stressed the importance of keeping patients at the center of these strategies. “If we do that, any policy changes we make will be very profound.”
In light of current budget restraints in the state, Dr. Rugge offered a solution: “If we can reconfigure the way our health system is set up, to have primary care at the center, costs will go down and people will be healthier.”