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August 17, 2020 | Tom Ballard

“36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival” kicks-off with an examination of the impact of COVID-19 from various perspectives

Day 1 of the first-ever “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival” delivered to the world via virtual technology has ended, and what more appropriate theme than health to kick-off the 10-day run for the event organized by Launch Tennessee.

After all, it was COVID-19 that caused the usually three-day, in-person, multi-venue event to have to shift to the virtual format. The novel coronavirus has also greatly impacted every business – from well-established enterprises to start-ups – in a variety of ways.

The opening morning featured a series of discussions moderated by Larry Van Horn, an Associate Professor of Economics and Management at Vanderbilt University and a leading expert and researcher on health care management and economics. Over a nearly three-hour period, Horn facilitated conversations with panelists examining COVID-19 and its impact from federal, state, local, economic and clinical perspectives.

Among a number of sobering points delivered during the discussions, we took particular note of the comments made by Lisa Piercey, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health. “We are in this for the long haul,” she told those viewing the broadcast. “It appears that it is not going to slowdown anytime soon.”

Piercey was clearly forthright and candid in her comments. A Pediatrician by formal training, she spent a decade in health systems operations, most recently as Executive Vice President of West Tennessee Healthcare, before joining the administration of Governor Bill Lee in January 2019.

“I think many of us thought this would be a few cases over a few weeks,” the Commissioner said of the period in late February and early March. “We quickly realized it was different,” causing a shift from a mostly acute care to a chronic care approach, something was reiterated several times in panels that followed.

Today, she said efforts in Tennessee over the past several months in areas like supply chain, availability of personal protective equipment, and hospital readiness if patient surges occur have been successful. “We’re there; we’re adequately prepared.”

Explaining that it is unreasonable to expect that COVID-19 will not spread, Piercey said the focus should now be on “efforts to keep our most vulnerable safe.” Those are people in high risk categories because of underlying health issues like obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“It is a much more targeted, surgical approach,” she said.

The Commissioner also addressed the fact that responses must balance health and the economy and the fact that poverty has a direct impact on the health of individuals. “This is not an either/or but a both/and,” Piercey said.

Her comments about the economy led to one of the more lively sessions that featured Art Laffer, Founder and Chairman of Laffer Associates, an economic research and consulting firm, and Laffer Investments, an investment management firm; and Doug Holtz-Eakin, President of the American Action Forum. The recurring theme during the discussion was highlighted with words like “fear,” “threat,” and “uncertainty.”

In response to a question from Horn about the key indicators for the economy going forward, Laffer and Holtz-Eakin agreed on one factor, but had different views on a second one. Both thought the employment to population ratio, not the more traditional unemployment rate, was the top indicator. For Holtz-Eakin, the second factor was the spending changes among residents of high income zip codes, while Laffer asserted its was the stock market’s performance and the upcoming election results.

Other morning panelists included:

  • Stephen Parente, Professor in the Department of Finance at the University of Minnesota, Associate Dean of its Global Institute, and a Senior Economist on the Council of Economic Advisers in the Executive Office of the President at the White House.
  • Alex Jahangir, Professor of Orthopedic surgery and an Orthopedic Trauma Surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center as well as the current Chair of the Metropolitan Board of Health of Nashville.
  • Former Senate Majority Leader William Frist, Founding Partner of Frist Cressey Ventures, and Special Partner of the health service investment firm Cressey & Company.
  • Marty Makary, The New York Times bestselling author of The Price We Pay, a new book that breaks down the high cost of health care and shows how people can get a better deal on their health care.

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