DR. JEFF BALSER:
As we move into this new year, I want to give you an update on the pandemic as well as our latest vaccination efforts.
Pandemic conditions in Middle Tennessee worsened over the holidays with more new cases and more patients requiring hospitalization. The number of COVID-19 inpatients in our adult hospital has climbed to over 150 at times, and additional cases are filling our Wilson, Shelbyville and Tullahoma facilities to their capacity.
These conditions stretch our staffing, especially with about 500 people unable to work due to the ongoing surge of community spread. The strain is magnified by fatigue – we are now in the 11th month of the pandemic. Many of you have been coping with COVID-19, and the hardships it brings, on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.
ICU NURSE ASHLEY MYERS, RN, BSN:
You know this has taken a hard toll on health care workers. We're seeing things we would have never imagined. Many of us have seen more death this year than we have in a lifetime. We're just asking you to join us in this fight."
(See her full video on Facebook.)
COVID-19 is putting our people under tremendous strain. Like so many of our people on the front lines of the pandemic, Ashley is strong and resilient, but she and her co-workers need our support.
There are some very important things we can all do to help them and help each other. First, let’s find ways to support those who we sense are under strain due to the pandemic - whenever we can. Whether it’s bringing a meal by for folks who are working extra shifts or listening as people share their stories. This is a time where we need to be a source of hope and healing for our colleagues, as well as for our patients.
Experience tells us that health care workers tend to hold onto their burdens. While we can’t ask our colleagues to share detailed patient information, but we can invite them to share their experiences. We can thank them for their service, and we can encourage them as they cope with conditions that we never imagined a year ago.
Another way we can help is to be vaccinated. By getting vaccinated we reduce the risk to our colleagues working in these high intensity areas. We also support their ability to deliver health care by protecting so many vital, “behind-the-scenes” services that our patients and our care delivery teams need, from IT systems to food services.
So far, about two-thirds of VUMC’s nearly 30,000 personnel have received the first dose of vaccine. But even in the highest-risk areas, such as our COVID units, emergency rooms, and ICUs, nearly a quarter of our people have not yet registered for vaccination.
We are redoubling our efforts to educate and encourage vaccination. In fact, we just released a new video featuring Dr. Bill Schaffner, Vaccine 301, with new content focused on vaccination and pregnancy.
Now, as directed by the Tennessee Department of Health, we are also vaccinating existing VUMC patients who are age 75 and over. Thousands of our patients in this age group are being notified and given appointments through their MyHealth at Vanderbilt accounts.
And we expect the Department of Health to authorize us to vaccinate an even larger group, patients 65 and over, along with certain other high-risk patients, soon -- very likely in early February.
We are working very hard, under tight timelines, to put the systems and facilities in place to vaccinate safely these large patient groups. According to the CDC, roughly half of all COVID hospitalizations and ICU admissions, and 80% of deaths, are patients over 65.
So, well before most people in Middle Tennessee are vaccinated, and well before we can all stop wearing masks, I’m encouraged that we can protect many of the patients at highest risk for hospitalization and death. We can drastically reduce the number of people who need hospitalization. And the humanitarian impact of having patients in this high-risk group immunized will be enormous.
In the middle of a pandemic that is straining us like never before, last week we experienced a violent attack on our nation’s Capitol. We witnessed a blow to the principles upon which this country was founded – principles in which VUMC strongly believes.
So, to everyone, and particularly to those who are exhausted, mentally and physically, yet every day give the full measure of yourselves to keep us all safe: please know that your resilience and determination is a steadying force of optimism and confidence in these uncertain times.
While your efforts are often hidden from public view, your courage and commitment are visible and recognized – and are deeply appreciated by millions of people across our region.
I believe that your efforts are heroic -- and I’m grateful to you. We are all grateful to you.
We’ll talk again.