About Dr. Mark Bernardi
Dr. Mark Bernardi is an Emergency Room physician practicing in the Greater Seattle Area, WA. He began his studies at Cornell University with a degree in Human Biology, graduated from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, and completed his residency at the University of Arizona in 2018.
Aside from his work in the emergency room, Dr. Bernardi, after completing research at the Harvard Institute of Medicine, took part in numerous other research programs as a coordinator. Furthermore, he took his expertise outside the American soil and in less-developed areas of the world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Harsh Reality of the COVID-19 Pandemic
From a young age, Dr. Bernardi developed an interest in health care systems. He had a particular interest in the Canadian model, which offers universal health care to all its citizens. However, after deciding to undergo his studies and training in the U.S., Dr. Bernardi, who dreamed about joining Doctors Without Borders first, saw himself forced to jump right into the fray. From the start, he showed eagerness to learn more about COVID-19 and the different pathways that each state chose to tackle the pandemic.
During his interview, Dr. Bernardi shared stories more appropriate for a dystopian novel rather than for the 21st-century U.S. healthcare system. From every single state where he worked, he reported what seemed to be chaos: hospitals in IL where nurses questioned the virus’s existence entirely, others who saw the mask more like a discardable accessory rather than a helpful tool, and hospitals in AZ that refused to front the resources for rapid testing willing to put the staff at risk, etc. “I don’t know exactly how other countries handled this, but I know that we didn’t handle it very well,” Dr. Bernardi admits.
In a search for the culprit, Dr. Bernardi points towards the U.S. health care system. The system turned the COVID-19 pandemic into a “survival of the fittest” type battleground, where everything from logistics to patient care hit constant bumps on the road. “Logistically, we couldn’t test in AZ for COVID, or the testing was so slow that we couldn’t transfer patients. “We were stuck managing patients in our emergency rooms for days when new patients should have been transferred out within a few hours.” Such shortcomings placed everyone in danger, especially those who pulled extra shifts due to staff shortage: “I, personally, had COVID twice.”
“It wasn’t about people. It was about dollars.”
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed more cracks in the fault line. With no centralized health care system, big pharmaceutical corporations monopolized and divided the COVID-19 battleground, putting dollar signs above patient care: “In America, the health care is all about money.” However, precisely when health care needed a sense of concord the most, these big corporations turned against one another, putting the vaccination campaign in jeopardy: “Some hospitals who weren’t able to rapidly test for COVID didn’t because they lacked proper lab equipment. Because of a disconnected healthcare system, this was especially burdensome for small towns with limited resources. In these towns, if one hospital had the proper equipment (lab or proper freezers to store COVID vaccines) and the other didn’t, unfortunately, I did not see them sharing.”
With business driving COVID-19-relief efforts, this harsh reality led to corporate entities trying to supplement the dwindling patient numbers with job cuts. The result? Numerous doctors, some with 30-40 years of experience, were forced into retirement or lost their jobs or even their pensions. “Business is ruining U.S. health care, and I don’t know why no one’s talking about it,” Dr. Bernardi shares with Top Doctor Magazine.
With such division and only personal goals in mind, it’s hard to believe in future change. For Dr. Bernardi, nothing but a universal health care system could prepare the country for the next pandemic. However, this highly politicized subject is not expected to become a palpable reality in the near future, Dr. Bernardi admits.
Turning Telemedicine into a Business
As the COVID-19 pandemic kept patients indoors, numerous doctors turned towards telemedicine. Dr. Bernardi himself saw the advantages of a remote approach to patient care and decided to join two telemedicine companies when (quite ironic in a pandemic!) he knew his hours would be cut. “It’s providing access to care, which is good for patients who don’t have their physicians.” However, not all doctors shared in his enthusiasm. With no legislation that protects physicians from liability, telemedicine provided an ineffective backup plan to a struggling health care system.
Furthermore, it wasn’t long before telemedicine companies saw the opportunity for extra revenue: “Overreaching with telemedicine to make a buck, which some of the telemedicine companies are doing, is inappropriate.” Dr. Bernardi disclosed to us several appalling examples of such inappropriate conduct: telemedicine companies who targeted people with anxiety issues to sell more antidepressants or doctors who prescribed Viagra to young adults who were in no need of such stimulants, etc. However, by far, the most shocking example is the following: “Another telemedicine company I was working for was selling COVID-19 tests. The COVID-19 tests are free!” For Dr. Bernardi, only strong legislation can make the difference between frauds and true telemedicine.
What Does 2021 Have in Store for Dr. Bernardi?
The perspective of a COVID-19-free year truly excites Dr. Bernardi. However, as he admits, two main concerns are troubling him: the difficulty of finding a stable job as an E.R. physician and the health care system’s state after the pandemic. “I don’t know if we’ve learned as much as we should have from this.” We can only hope that Dr. Bernardi’s vision for a stronger health care system will come to life before the next pandemic.
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Brianna Connors & Derek Archer Co-Editors