June 2021 President’s Message: The New Normal

by Dale Toney, M.D., 2020-2021 KMA President

While there are certainly still remnants visible, society is starting to return to what life looked like before the COVID-19 pandemic. Capacity restrictions and mask mandates in Kentucky expired just over a week ago, and stores, restaurants, and travel looks much like it did pre-pandemic.

For physicians, however, things aren’t back to ‘normal’ just yet. There are still many protocols in place in our hospitals and clinics to keep our staff and patients safe, and likely will be for some time. Only 44% of Kentuckians are fully vaccinated. And then of course we are still navigating the mental and emotional toll the pandemic took on all of us, but particularly on health care workers who were on the front lines and those who lost friends, family, and colleagues to the virus.

For many of us, life may never be ‘normal’ again. Instead, we may just be adjusting to a ‘new normal.’

It’s during these unprecedented times that I am thankful for organizations like the KMA. The activities of the Association look different than they did 18 months ago, and that’s a good thing. They have listened to and responded to the needs of physicians during this time, and emerged as a leader in public health to help fight the pandemic.

Last summer, KMA pivoted to offer its Annual Meeting virtually for the first time, and thousands of physicians from across the state joined online to discuss issues related to COVID-19, as well as to take part in virtual CME offerings. This August, the KMA Annual Meeting will once again be held virtually to provide physicians with the same opportunities to connect with their colleagues, learn, and shape policy from the comfort and safety of their own homes. You can learn more about the Annual Meeting and register at kyma.org/2021-kma-annual-meeting/.

KMA also advocated for important changes and protections for physicians and patients during a challenging 2021 legislative session, and came out with a historic number of wins for healthcare in Kentucky. Thanks to the engagement of so many of our members, as well as the support of pro-medicine legislators, we were able to secure passage of new bills that will provide COVID-19 liability protections, parity for mental health services, improve co-pay accumulator policies, remove prior authorization requirements for medication-assisted treatment, and expand telehealth. More details on these new laws and others passed in 2021 are available at kyma.org/advocacy.

The Association also focused on the health of our patients, as well as physicians, through the Be Well. Stay Well initiative. Be Well. Stay Well produced a number of public health campaigns related to improving health during the pandemic, reaching millions of Kentuckians. These included the “Wear It For Me” mask campaign, the “Raise Your Guard, KY” and “Raise Your Guard, KY: Focus on Flu” efforts, and most recently, the “Take It From Me” COVID-19 vaccination campaign. “Take It From Me” is currently airing in the form of public service announcements across the state, and also just launched a targeted social media effort in counties where COVID-19 vaccination rates are currently the lowest. More than 700,000 Kentuckians began receiving messaging from the “Take It From Me” campaign last week and will continue to do so for the next three weeks as KMA encourages as many people as possible to receive the vaccine.

While I am proud of all of the work of the KMA during this time, I am perhaps most proud of the launch of the Be Well. Stay Well Physician Health Program in early 2021. The program provides up to six free visits with a licensed therapist for KMA physician members in rural areas of the state through The Woodland Group of Lexington. The visits are conducted remotely and kept completely confidential from anyone with KMA and/or the physician’s practice or employer. The Woodland Group manages the administrative aspects of confirming KMA membership and no report is provided to KMA that contains any physician’s name. The program is made available to rural physicians because of the unique geographic limitations some may face in seeking such assistance. It was recently featured in the May/June issue of Medical News, and more information about the program is available at kyma.org/bewellstaywellphp/.

It is my hope that this work and these opportunities have proven valuable to you, particularly over the last year. It is because of your membership that the KMA is able to do this work, and I thank you for helping make these things happen. I also hope that life is at least returning to some semblance of normalcy for you, whatever that may mean.