All across the country, dedicated public health professionals are working tirelessly to help stem the COVID-19 pandemic. They deserve our thanks and heartfelt appreciation. I’ve been involved in public health for nearly 30 years, most recently as CEO of the Community Health Centers in Multnomah County, Oregon. As we observe National Public Health Week, it’s important to raise awareness about why “Public Health” is absolutely essential … now and always.

The concept of “public health” is a focus on preventing disease and protecting the health of the entire population. It is the reason for the social distancing steps most of us are taking.

One lasting legacy of this pandemic may be a new appreciation of the importance of public health. This includes a heightened awareness that we are all “in this together,” and a much greater emphasis on preventing disease and devoting resources toward improving everyone’s health, with no one left behind.

This would be a new approach in the US. Historically, our healthcare system has focused on treating disease after it has occurred, rather than preventing disease before it starts. Much of the trillions of dollars spent on healthcare each year goes toward unnecessary clinical care, and developing new, expensive tests and costly pharmaceuticals. If you have good insurance and easy access, you might think these dollars are well spent.

However, lower-income people and communities of color often do not have insurance or their insurance may not cover some of the more expensive treatments and medications. Too often health status is determined in large part by where you live and your income. As a result, there are huge health disparities in our country and in our state. That needs to change.

From the desk of  Vanetta Abdellatif, President and CEO, Arcora Foundation

For example, only about 22 percent of low-income adults in Washington have access to dental care. The health of your mouth affects overall health and the ability to get or keep a job. Dental problems often start out small, but can quickly become more difficult and expensive to treat. Yet, if everyone had access to dental care and more people received the benefits of community water fluoridation, many oral health problems could be prevented, saving money and improving health.

COVID-19 is a crucial reminder that we really are “in this together.” That is why health equity is a priority for Arcora Foundation and should be a national priority ‑‑ because we all benefit when everyone in our community is healthy.