UH Caregivers Continue to Show Grace Under Fire

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Perspective on the fourth wave of COVID-19; vaccination more important than ever

By Cliff Megerian, MD, FACS, UH Chief Executive Officer

UH Clinical Update | September 2021

No one would have thought that we’d be facing a fourth wave of COVID-19 in the late summer of 2021. But here we are, hunkering down again as we confront the evolving virus.

 

So I want to say again how incredibly grateful I am, as we all are, for all that you, our caregivers, are doing for our COVID-19 patients, and the immense amount of compassion you continually show.

I know there’s often a risk of burnout in such a situation, because burnout is the result of an ongoing situation that we are unable to control – and a stealthy virus that attacks people, nearly all of whom have not been vaccinated, certainly qualifies.

The good news for UH is that, yes, this is another wave of COVID-19, but also, what I am hearing and seeing gives me tremendous relief because our caregivers are knowledgeable and experienced, having been through this before, and even worse. During 2020’s worst wave – in October, November, and December - we had upward of 350 patients in our hospitals with COVID, at one time.

Our modeling suggests we are unlikely to see numbers those high again. More likely, we will top out at less than two-thirds of that number. It should give us some comfort that we are not heading down that same path. Also, we have again activated our very reliable incident command structure to deal with planning, logistics, clinical and other operational aspects of what continues to be a pandemic.

The bigger issue we have to work on is our staffing, and making sure that we are not in any way forgetting about the tremendous sacrifices that our clinicians have to make, even if it is in the care of just one COVD-19 patient. And it’s rarely just one.

We have to help each other, to be kind to each other and know that although we are being hit by another wave, that slowly, this region is getting its arms around the best way to prevent this from continuing to happen in the future.

We know that means people getting vaccinated.

We see hospitals that are desperately overrun with patients - particularly in Alabama, Mississippi, parts of Texas, and Florida - and they all are in areas that have vaccination rates at around 30 or 35 percent.

What we are experiencing in Northeast Ohio is nowhere as severe because we have vaccination levels in some areas that are approaching 60 to 65 percent. That is, at least in part, why we don’t have the deluge of patients faced by hospitals in some southern states.

More than ever, we clinicians are going to be viewed by our community, by our friends, by our family members, by the people we worship with, play sports with and socialize with, as information experts. I hope that all of us remember that in medicine, we are driven by science.

And the science shows that with about 363 million doses of vaccines delivered in the U.S., there have been very, very few incidents of any major side effects, enough so that this week the FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine, and is expected to do the same very soon with the Moderna vaccine.

For all these reasons we should encourage those who we know – perhaps even coworkers - who are hesitant to get the vaccine. The fastest way today to prevent the illness, and deaths or severe disabilities, is for as many people as possible to get the vaccine.

It is a plain fact that nearly 99 percent of people now admitted to hospitals all over the nation, and certainly here at UH, are people who have not been vaccinated.

It also is very rare in medicine that you could have last year’s third leading killer of Americans - COVID-19 – already having become preventable through a painless shot.

So I would encourage everyone to become a leader and if you will, talk to, counsel and persuade those who are vaccine hesitant for their own safety - and that of our hospitals and our patients and our caregivers - to become vaccinated.

Lowering the amount of patients we are caring for who have COVID-19 is the fastest way of alleviating the burnout and the stress in our workplace.

Some of those who have hesitated on vaccination said it was because the FDA called it an experimental, emergency-use drug that had not been officially approved.

Now it is.

I hope that is a sufficient reason for many of those initially reluctant to change their minds, get the shot, and likely save their own lives and those of the people around them.

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