By Gail Clifford MD~
Eleven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals remain stressed beyond reason as they incur high levels of personal risk. With patients sicker than we’ve ever seen and too ill to return home, our responsibilities seem to expand every day.
As a hospitalist and board-certified physician in Internal Medicine, I treat patients exclusively in the hospital. It’s clear we are now entering another critical stage of the pandemic. And while it’s very disheartening that the Coronavirus wasn’t stopped earlier, we must deal with what we currently face.
Within each region, we are seeing a higher volume of patients filling emergency departments, intensive care units, and hospital floors. As the surge hits rural areas, we are beginning to see the effects of nationwide critical staffing shortages within healthcare facilities, which now impacts us directly. Specifically, we are seeing a rise in the number of quarantined and COVID-positive healthcare staff. The majority of these cases are a result of exposures during group and/or community gatherings.
Hospital employees and staff take all precautions possible to protect ourselves at work, only to be exposed to contact outside the hospital. Remaining staff are then forced to work with more patients and fewer resources with increased risk of contracting the virus.
Unfortunately, my hospital won’t guarantee treatment should I contract the virus at work. Based on a scarce resources policy, I’d be placed in the same lottery pool as other patients awaiting treatment. It’s discouraging, and makes me think twice about going to work. But my job is to treat sick patients, so I’ll do the best I can, wherever I am, for as long as I can.
We no longer have the resources to shift physicians, nurses, or EMTs across state lines to help in an emergency. The entire country is essentially facing the same problem.
As a citizen, how can you help?
Essential healthcare workers must consider the impact of gathering in large groups outside of work, specifically when not socially distanced and/or masked. We need you to make the same considerations. At the bare minimum, we ask you continue to wear masks and socially distance both indoors and outside.
We want to keep each other safe and continue to provide quality care to our patients. In order to do that, we need staff to be able to come to work safely and minimize the risk of acquiring the virus in the community.
So many of us have little energy to do more than go to work and go home. In rural areas, we don’t have the advantages of grocery delivery or other convenient amenities. We’re forced to buy essentials at the store just as you are. Few of us can practice our faith as we had previously, relying solely on virtual mass or services. We do the best we can.
By following the CDC guidelines, hospitals work to provide a safely monitored and controlled environment in which staff can feel comfortable. Please help us to maintain this environment for everyone by following CDC guidelines, as well. Without your help, we are at a very real risk of meeting or exceeding the death toll in the United States from the 1917-1918 Spanish Influenza outbreak — a cost of 950,000 Americans.
COVID-19 a once-in-a-century viral pandemic, and it’s going to take socially responsible actions from everyone to overcome it.