Responding Without Reacting

For the last two weeks I have tried to do my normal grocery shopping and have been forcefully reminded that things are most definitely not normal right now. Saturday, I went to five stores in two towns and was unable to buy what I needed to cook for the week. Sunday morning I went back out again – and ended up in a queue before the store opened. That was a first! People have clearly been taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, but some of the reaction is driven by mixed or mis-information, or the rapid nature in which information is evolving. 

We also see that seriousness in our interactions with providers and state agency staff in recent weeks as well. While there is always urgency in providing care and services to vulnerable populations, that urgency is ramped up to an unprecedented levels. We have been reading about Appendix K and 1135 waivers that states are submitting and we are both observing and participating in communications that are taking place between states and providers.

The difference between “responding” and “reacting” is subtle but clear. When one reacts, one is typically acting with little thought – it’s more like acting out of reflex, like a knee-jerk. A response takes more thought and consideration. Reactions happen quickly and usually don’t take longer term effects into consideration. Responses, because they are more thoughtful, can address the longer term and bigger picture issues.  

There’s a lot of reacting going on right now. The grocery stores are one of the clearest examples of that. People reacted and cleaned out the stores – the supply chain simply hasn’t had the capacity to ramp up in a meaningful way and stores are short of many of the basics of everyday living.  

Given how vulnerable older people and people with chronic health problems are to the novel coronavirus, it’s important that publicly funded services continue to ensure their health and safety. It’s incumbent upon state agencies and providers of services to older adults and people with disabilities to respond appropriately to this crisis – not just react. 

Some questions to help make sure you are responding and not reacting:

  • Can you state clearly what the problem is that you are trying to solve?
  • How will taking these steps help solve that problem?
  • Will these steps create other problems?
  • Do I know what the potential unintended consequences are?
  • Are there other ways to solve this problem?

Involving stakeholders in the identification of problems and solutions can mean better decisions. Communication and education are key to successful implementation. This is just like the actions that agencies take in approaching change management. The urgency around the pandemic doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go through these steps. It does mean that they have to happen faster. This crisis is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. But there is a likelihood that this will be the new normal for a more protracted period of time than it would be for a hurricane, or a flood, or a tornado, or a fire. Operations could be impacted for months. State and provider agencies will live with the consequences of what they do now for months. Responding rather than reacting reduces the likelihood that you will create more problems at the end of that time. 

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