By Jan Wade
Who does not remember the scenes and stories? Hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19. Patients in beds and chairs in hallways, bodies piling up downstairs and in cold-storage vans outside, overworked staff dropping out sick and even dying from virus exposure and unsustainable hours at work. Short on masks, short on respirators, short on gloves.
The first weeks of March 2020 will be known as the time hospitals, especially in major metropolitan areas, resembled mobile triage units or scenes from worst-case post-disaster movies. These scenes flooded our senses. Seemed unreal. But real they were. Like a living nightmare.
Now, after the top of the curve, as we make our way toward reopening our lives and businesses, we are preparing to face life after virus.
And there is a looming problem.
Describing the problem, Johnese Spisso, the president of the University of California Los Angeles' health system and the CEO of the UCLA Hospital System recently said in an interview with Yahoo Finance, "What we learned is the public was very frightened of hospitals and clinics," Ms. Spisso said. "We had to do a lot of outreach education. We worked together as a hospital community in Los Angeles to educate the public and to tell them it's time to come back for the healthcare they have put on pause."
She went on to say, that as a tertiary medical center, UCLA Health had been especially concerned about reductions in emergency department visits for heart attacks and strokes. In fact, a recent study from TransUnion Healthcare found nationwide, ED (emergency department) visits are still down 40 percent and inpatient visits are down 20 percent compared to pre-COVID-19 volumes.
Ms. Spisso went on to say, "We know COVID did nothing to cure those, so we were very concerned people weren't presenting for the care that's needed. We very quickly began to see that as we opened back up, who really should have been coming in a lot sooner," she told Yahoo Finance.
To address these concerns, UCLA Health joined five other health systems in the greater Los Angeles area on an educational/public service campaign to encourage patients to seek important medical care amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign declares, "Life may be on pause. Your health isn't."
Impact on Hospitals Nationwide
The public is afraid to go to the hospitals or clinics, and this is affecting the health care industry. As an example, Baylor Scott & White Health, a nonprofit health system based in Dallas, is laying off about 1,200 employees, nearly 3 percent of its workforce, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Like other health systems across the nation, Baylor Scott & White is facing financial damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The health system spent $85 million to prepare and respond to the pandemic, and at the same time, it also saw a significant drop in patient volumes.
"We experienced a dramatic drop in patient volumes — between 50 and 90 percent, depending upon where they sought care," CEO Jim Hinton told employees in a video message, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Those affected by the layoffs will be told this week and paid through June 7, a spokesperson told The Dallas Morning News.
In addition to the layoffs, Baylor Scott & White is furloughing an unspecified number of employees, leaving some open positions unfilled and cutting the pay of about 300 senior leaders, according to the report.
Baylor Scott & White is one of more than 260 hospitals and health systems across the nation to furlough or lay off employees in recent months.
Patients must come back. Patients must regain their trust in our health care system. How will that be accomplished?
Solutions to the COVID Paralysis
Telling the public about action taken by healthcare systems and more importantly individual hospitals will be an important step in helping calm their fears. Along with telling their story, hospitals must take definitive, recognizable action to mitigate the damage and calm the nerves of their patient base. The theme must be, “Come back, its safe. No need to fear us”.
Here are just some of the necessary steps now needed:
- There have been unending stories about lack of masks, gloves, and respirators, now we need to hear those troubles are past.
- There have been horrifying stories of death and infection inside the walls of well-known and trusted hospitals, now we need to see evidence the trouble has passed by. The professionals are in control.
- When family members or we ourselves visit our local hospital, they and we need to see with our own eyes’ precautions in place. Screens and shields installed at contact points. Masks worn by hospital personnel as well as visitors.
In other words, action, action, and more action. It is show-and-tell time.
A note to hospital administrators: We are your voice, your advocates. We the public want and need your services. We will speak to our family, friends, and coworkers about the steps you are taking to protect your staff and your public. Give us the tools we need to defend you. Please!