By Pastor Gerrit Bruintjes
ARPA invited Pastor Gerrit Bruintjes to write a guest post to articulate the differences between Public Safety, Public Health, and Healthcare. Disentangling these three concepts can help Christians pray for the specific needs, tasks, and failures of specific government officials.
Pandemic response is incredibly difficult, and COVID-19 has given the world some unique challenges. This disease is highly contagious and affects people in different ways. Our leaders need our prayers as they wrestle with what is best for their communities.
As we continue to pray, we can often do so with increasing clarity. Specifically, I’d like to suggest three public policy concepts that will help guide our prayers for our government at this time. These three areas are those of Public Safety, Public Health, and Healthcare. In Canada’s response to COVID-19, each of these three concepts is concerned with different factors. Understanding the way these three concepts operate in our public health policy, how different government actors are motivated by these three concepts, and especially how they relate during a pandemic can help us see where government officials specifically need our prayers.
Pray for Public Safety Leadership and Workers
Public Safety is about protecting citizens from anything that is injurious to the safety or health of the entire community. Generally, Public Safety is focused on clear and imminent danger. For example, police officers restrain evildoers, firefighters put out fires, and paramedics take the person having a heart attack to a place of care.
During a severe pandemic, Public Safety officers do not set health policy or treat the sick but manage and enforce regulations. During this COVID-19 pandemic, Public Safety officials have been asked to enforce regulations by dispersing crowds, shutting down businesses, closing churches, and stopping birthday celebrations. This can be hard to do, especially where there does not seem to be any immediate danger. At times they are put in the difficult (and odd!) position of threatening punishment to protect health.
Pray that God may give Public Safety officials wisdom, patience, compassion, and grace as they are asked to carry out this heavy responsibility. Pray that citizens may not see them as the enemy but respect them and see them as trying to work for our good.
Pray for Public Health Leadership and Workers
Public Health is concerned with the science of protecting and improving community health. Those determining Public Health policy develop health regulations that Public Safety is often asked to enforce. Public Health does not focus on individuals (because each person is different) but focuses its attention on general community trends. During a pandemic, general disease trends are observed, Healthcare capacity is assessed, and regulations are developed that should be beneficial for all of society.
Masks, lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and quarantines are all tools of Public Health that Public Safety is being asked to enforce. Deciding what tools to use is difficult and there are limits to how far they can use these tools. Lockdowns have devastating effects on other areas of life (economic, educational, mental, and spiritual). It takes wisdom and courage to assess these competing interests. Public Health must accept the reality of a fallen world where death is real, society is complex, and human behaviour is unpredictable (and often selfish). While it seems cold-hearted, good disease modelling will account for the difference in the death of a 35-year-old and an 85-year-old (a calculation called Quality-Adjusted Life Year or QALY). As we all know, the stark reality of anyone dying hurts. No one wishes death upon anyone, and often Public Health decisions are difficult and emotionally loaded.
Pray that God may give those determining Public Health policy knowledge of COVID-19 and how it affects populations. Pray that God may give them a broader vision for health beyond modelling only for COVID-19. Pray that God may give Public Health clarity to see which regulations are realistic and which are not. Pray that God may comfort them as they face the reality of death and human limitations in preventing it. Pray that God may guard them from a guilty conscience when certain policies may not save every life. Pray that God may give them patience when citizens wrestle with their own interpretations of what is good and right.
Pray for Healthcare Leadership and Workers
Healthcare, simply put, is about treating the individual person by preventing or curing sickness. Every patient, regardless of age, is a real person with a life, family, friends, and deep intrinsic values. Whether the patient is 35 or 85, Healthcare professionals will do whatever they can to make you better, even if that chance of success is slim. During a pandemic, the Healthcare system takes care of those who get so sick that they need a doctor or hospital care. This means that, if many people get very sick, the Healthcare system comes under strain and could collapse. Therefore, it is important for Healthcare and Public Health to be in constant dialogue to manage a good pandemic response. For example, flattening the curve and preventing the overload of hospitals are Public Health policies designed to relieve the pressure off Healthcare. As both are managed by the government in Canada, this open communication can be streamlined. It does, however, come with a risk.
Doctors, who see firsthand the devasting effects of a disease, can be tempted to try to use Public Health measures like lockdowns and quarantines to provide individualized Healthcare. If a regional lockdown could have spared grandmother’s life, would it not have been worth it? Recent press conferences that encourage lockdowns because “every life matters” show how easy it is to confuse Public Health and Healthcare. Such an approach is concerning.
Pray that God may richly provide Healthcare professionals with all the resources they need to serve every person well. Pray that God may prevent hospital capacity overload or collapse. Pray that God may bless the desire to save every life that comes through the hospital door. Pray that God may give all Healthcare professionals the awareness of their own limits in saving lives. Pray that God may strengthen their hearts as they face dying and death and the grief associated with it. Pray that God may guard them against callousness towards the dying.
Pray for the Church of Jesus Christ
God’s Word says, “Teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). This pandemic is forcing the world to face the fear and the reality of death. We thank God for measures and interventions that Public Safety, Public Health, and Healthcare can implement to protect life. However, we realize such measures can only delay death, not defeat it. Every person will face death until Jesus comes back. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only answer to the fear and reality of death.
Pray for the Church. Pray that the world may see that true love is far more than only protecting a person’s physical health. Pray that we may never minimize the attempts to save lives. Pray for wisdom, compassion, and grace in speaking about the realities of death and concerns we may have with current measures. Pray for compassion and courage to tell people about Jesus Christ who by His death delivers those who live enslaved to the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). Pray that we will keep praying.
May God be gracious in our time of need.
Pastor Gerrit Bruintjes is the pastor of Bethel Canadian Reformed Church in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Prior to entering the ministry, he utilized his Masters of Public Health and expertise in biostatistics in the public health sector.