John 13:34 is one of my favorite Bible verses. It is Jesus’ direction that we love each other as He loved us. I have been pondering this verse of late and have realized, again, that love is not a spoken word; it is an action word. It means actively laying aside one’s own desires and putting the needs of others above our own. This is exactly what I see being played out each day at Hancock Health: people who have devoted their lives to the calling of helping and healing others through kindness and clinical expertise, often to the detriment of themselves.
Never has this been truer than during the last 18 months. Our extraordinary nurses, physicians, therapists, technicians and support associates have worked tirelessly through a rapidly changing environment. The early days of the pandemic, when we completely altered our operations, redeployed many of our people and focused entirely on COVID, was a period filled with uncertainty and apprehension. But it also held a tinge of exhilaration as we were totally absorbed with ending the pandemic.
Last summer, as stay-at-home orders ended and life became the “new normal,” we transitioned into a more traditional operating stance. Thanks to unprecedented investment by the prior administration in Washington, D.C., we eagerly awaited release of the new vaccines while understanding that there might be another surge of patients that accompanied the return of cold weather. But the influx we experienced exceeded our expectations. There were many days over the holidays where the majority of our patients were being treated for COVID, and our teams grew exhausted from the unrelenting stress. We greeted release of the vaccines in December with joy and became a high-volume vaccination site, ultimately immunizing more than 20,000 residents of our county.
Summer came, and COVID volumes fell dramatically. There were days when we had only one COVID inpatient and a few weeks where we had no COVID-positive patients at all in the emergency room. Testing requests fell to the single digits, and we closed the monoclonal antibody clinic due to lack of volume. Eventually we even closed the vaccine clinic and shifted our inventory to the county health department.
Then the Delta variant began its rapid march through the world, reaching Indiana in July. Within a few weeks, one-third of our inpatient volume was COVID related and by early September, we had reached our highest number of COVID inpatients and patients on ventilators since the beginning of the pandemic. But this time they were much sicker and younger than in the past. Emergency room volumes hit their highest sustained level in nearly a decade. Requests for monoclonal antibody infusions soared, testing sites became backlogged, and we became very worried, because if this could happen in August, what might we expect this winter?
One thing was also clear. The majority of our patients suffering with COVID were not vaccinated. All of our sickest patients were unvaccinated. It became common for multiple members of the same family to be admitted to the hospital and placed on ventilators within days of each other. We began to hear patients indicate remorse for not having been vaccinated, with some insisting on being vaccinated right away. But it was too late for them.
You may have noticed that we continue to emphasize vaccination. This is because we have personally experienced the exceptionally low number of adverse events from the vaccines as well as seeing firsthand its effectiveness in keeping people out of the hospital. Certainly, another route to immunity is through infection, and for younger folks with a strong immune system and no underlying health issues, the outcome will likely be good. But when one considers that being older and overweight are the two primary predictors of a poor outcome with COVID, and nearly 75% of us fall in those categories, the route to immunity via vaccination is much quicker and much safer. As with so many other areas of life, the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true with COVID as well. If you choose not to be vaccinated, please be careful. Build your immune system by eating right and exercising. Avoid crowded places, wear your mask, wash your hands. Consider vaccination.
Advocating for preventive measures based on evidence is part and parcel of what we do. If we see a person with a disease we can treat, we don’t turn a blind eye. We inform them, we ensure they understand, and we encourage them to take our advice. We will rarely say, “It’s up to you; we are OK either way.” We will almost always say, “This is the choice the evidence supports; we strongly recommend it; please choose this one.”
While we will implore you to consider the recommendation, it is always your choice as a patient. We have never, nor will we ever, force you. We listen to, respect, educate and share recommendations based on solid evidence from experts in central Indiana who have direct experience caring for literally thousands of patients with COVID-19.
The evidence drives our recommendations. Our love for each other, our patients and our communities drives our passion to ensure everyone hears, understands and takes action on that evidence. This is why we are so insistent on vaccination. But don’t take my word for it. Talk to your physician about how you can best protect yourself against COVID-19. And then make your decision.
For more information about the coronavirus or the vaccine, visit the Hancock Regional Hospital website. COVID-19 vaccine appointments are now open to Hoosiers age 12+. Please register at www.ourshot.in.gov or call 211.
President and CEO, Hancock Health