Question for the day: Does the name Charity Dean mean anything to you?
From 2011 through 2014, she was the deputy public health officer for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, and from 2014 through 2018, she was the department’s chief public health officer. However, not being not too savvy about local government, I hadn’t heard of her until I just read Michael Lewis’s book, “The Premonition: A Pandemic Story.” She is the hero of the book.
To encourage you to read it, I offer this quote on the back cover of the book, from New York Times book reviewer John Williams: “I would read an 800-page history of the stapler if Michael Lewis wrote it.” Me too. Back to him and her shortly.
The second thing that woke me up in the last two weeks is, I found out that health insurance companies like Blue Shield sponsor programs for health and fitness for individual members — at no cost to them!
Then I thought about it. If insurance companies didn’t have to pay off any health claims, they would become the most lucrative businesses in the world! (That’s why they fight so hard not to pay off claims now.)
It’s entirely to their advantage to help people remain healthy and not have to see a doctor in the first place. My first reaction was – those dirty sneaks! Then I thought, more power to them!
We think that the medical profession should prevent illness, which experts try to do. Yet the main thing they still do is cure illness. (On the other hand, a 2018 Johns Hopkins study claims more than 250,000 people in the U.S. die every year from medical errors!) But I’m trying to make this a positive article, so let’s skip that for now.
What if the insurance profession’s job was officially recognized as: to prevent illness and disease? The better they did their job, the healthier we would be. We would all be much healthier, and they would become fantastically rich. Ex-doctors and nurses could work for them.
We would still need national health care programs for the aging and poorest, but it would be a win-win program all around!
This brings us back to Dr. Dean. The book is a drama about how she and a tiny core group of doctors, healthcare workers, scientists and others saw the pandemic coming and worked desperately to understand it, test it, control it and prevent it. They did this, not with the direction and help of the U.S. government or the CDC, but often in spite of them. Dr. Dean said, “The United States doesn’t really have a health care system. It has 5,000 dots, and each one of those dots serves at the will of an elected official.”
After her work as the Santa Barbara County public health officer, Dr. Dean moved from Santa Barbara to Sacramento to become assistant director of the California Department of Public Health. Yet she had no real authority to work on tackling COVID-19. She did what she could within the state government, but worked mostly outside of it. It is a long story, and Mr. Lewis does a great and dramatic job telling it.
What is Dr. Dean doing now? She has founded a for-profit business called The Public Health Company to assist the public health community and businesses with managing the risks of infectious disease. She also continues to publicly offer her expert opinion about COVID-19, and how to respond to and prevent pandemics in general. But a for-profit company?
At first, I thought, “Oh no, she has sold out!” Then I thought, “Maybe this is like the insurance companies. Maybe they will lead the fight in sickness prevention, and she will lead the fight in pandemic prevention. I have no idea what will happen. But the older a profession, an institution, a company, a government department, an elected official – the more distrustful I am of them. Entrenchment creates a disconnect.”
Dr. Dean and her core group fought to serve us. I am very happy to have a woman of her knowledge, courage and willingness to move forward, trying to do something for the people — in the good old American way — for profit!
But I am also sure that’s not the way government should work.
The author lives in Santa Barbara.