By Dr. Lori Morgan
To our valued patients, friends, colleagues, partners and community members:
Are we there yet? I remember my son asking that question when a long car trip seemed endless and he was restless to get free of the constraints of his car seat. From the driver’s seat, I was sympathetic but firm for everyone’s safety. In that sense, COVID-19 has been one long, frightful car ride — a journey that has left many of us forever changed. With a vaccine on the horizon, our destination is now in sight — however, we are most definitely not there yet.
At this critical point in the pandemic, Huntington Hospital is experiencing its third surge: Hospitalizations of COVID patients increased 70% during the last week in November. While we are skilled at caring for both COVID and non-COVID patients, this trend is unsettling for several reasons.
Access to vital care is threatened
Preserving access to care is a priority for the health and well-being of our community. If the trajectory of the virus continues, needed care could be delayed.
While we have the space, we lack an unlimited nursing reserve to call on should the rapid increase in hospitalization of COVID patients continue. We have staffed up for this current surge; however, the supply of nurses simply cannot keep up with demand on this trajectory and we will be forced to reconsider what procedures can be done.
In March, when the U.S. had its first surge of COVID patients, all elective surgeries were canceled by order of the surgeon general. While this was intended to preserve vital hospital capacity, the country saw an increase in the severity of non-COVID illnesses and even deaths resulting from delayed care. We do not want to see this happen again.
Our patients miss their loved ones
We recently made the difficult decision to limit in-person visitation again at the hospital. Our strong preference is for our patients to have the comfort and company of those they love. However, given the recent increase of virus in the community, our risk-scoring matrix guided a cautious decision to limit in-person visitation for the safety of our patients and caregivers.
I fear the upcoming holidays will not help to stop the cycle of transmission — in fact, quite the opposite. With Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s just a few weeks away, I urge you to “reimagine” your traditions. I am walking the walk; like many of my colleagues, I postponed our traditional Thanksgiving celebration and opted for a much smaller, safer version at home for the health of our family and community. And I will forgo all traditional events and gatherings for the upcoming holidays.
The choices we make can protect those in our community who are older than 65 or have pre-existing health conditions. While this holiday season is going to be challenging, there is an end in sight: Vaccines are on the horizon. The tunnel may be longer than we’d like, but the light at the end is visible. The data from several vaccine trials are very positive thus far, and we will begin vaccinating our front-line staff at the hospital this month.
We hope that by spring a vaccine will become available to the public and we can begin slowly, carefully resuming our routines that have been so disrupted. Until then, we must be the arbiters of cautious judgment to ensure that our community stays safe and healthy — and that we can celebrate with everyone we love when we reach our destination.
Dr. Lori Morgan is CEO of Huntington Hospital.