COVID Pandemic is a Catalyst for Healthcare Technology, Preparedness & Frontline Worker Support

September 10, 2021 – While healthcare delivery and technology have accelerated by a decade following the pandemic, the psychological impacts to healthcare professionals are numerous and ongoing, according to presenters at yesterday’s The Evolution of Healthcare webinar hosted by Adams County Regional Economic Partnership’s (AC-REP) Development Council. Nicole Milo, System Director Government & Community Affairs for Centura Health, moderated the program and Q&A.

Dr. Vernon Naake, Chief Medical Officer for HealthONE North Suburban Medical Center, set the stage for the discussion by highlighting the state of COVID in Adams County and particulars on the virus and the latest technologies used to create the vaccine. He says healthcare workers are now battling the fourth pandemic surge, noting that mortality rates during the first two surges (May ’20 and Jan. ’21) were significantly higher than in the most recent waves (in May ’21 and currently).

“It’s the people who are getting vaccinated that are decreasing that risk of both hospitalizations and mortality,” he explained. “Right now in Adams County, 72 percent of the eligible population/almost 73 percent are vaccinated, and that’s making a big difference both in our county, in the state, and most of our country. For areas that are vaccinated, you’re going to have less activity, less hospitalization, and at the end, a decreased mortality rate.”

The effects of the pandemic on our healthcare workers are numerous, according to Dr. Prakash Karki, currently Chief Medical Officer with Platte Valley Medical Center SCL Health. He shared his experiences on the front lines putting in 26, 12-hour shifts in April 2020 while working in Indianapolis and the phases all healthcare workers went through emotionally and psychologically as the pandemic unfolded.

“We felt like we were in a war-like situation. But never during all this time did any of us think twice or have doubts about our sense of purpose,” he said. “We felt that we could go through it together. And we didn’t look back. We went every day to work feeling like it’s an opportunity to make an impact, although back in our minds we had a sense of anxiety about our safety.”

But there are some silver linings in innovations and patient convenience when it comes to COVID, says Dr. Ari Melmed, Regional Medical Director, Telehealth Services for Kaiser Permanente. An emergency physician by training, Dr. Melmed discussed the innovations from COVID when it comes to telehealth.

“We went from 90+% in-person care to nearly 90+% virtual care overnight. People were already turning toward virtual care, the structure was in place, but the timeline was sped up,” said Dr. Melmed.

In his opinion, telehealth is a value-add to in-person care and he says the number of people who regularly use it skyrocketed last year and remains steady. Dr. Melmed sees many benefits from a broader adaption of telehealth, including reduced costs, increased access, and better patient outcomes.

However, the toll on people’s mental health due to COVID is a pressing issue, said Christy Ewing, Enterprise Wellness Program Lead for Centura Health. She explained that before the pandemic, a CDC survey found that 11 percent of respondents reported some type of symptom related to depression or anxiety. In contrast, the latest survey shows 42 percent experiencing depression or anxiety.

On a positive note, Ewing says healthcare is responding by working to integrate physical and mental health like never before and are now screening more for mental health disorders in primary care offices, leading to increased patient wellbeing.

She says companies also have an essential role in helping their employees survive the pandemic and thrive by working to reduce burnout. Training leaders to support their teams is crucial through transparency, soliciting input, supporting personal development, and expressing gratitude.

The Evolution of Healthcare webinar is the eighth Development Council event of 2021. Development Council informs AC-REP’s members on key economic development issues and involves them in developing AC-REP’s annual events and programming. Watch for registration for the next event on November 11, highlighting the aerospace industry.