Medical professionals have been on the front lines treating COVID-19 patients for nearly one year without the protection of a vaccine, but all that is changing this month and, according to staff members at CHA Everett, it has brought about a new level of relaxation and a calming of the mind when treating those with the virus.
Dr. Melisa Lai-Becker, chief of the Emergency Department at CHA Everett, reported that having been vaccinated, many workers on the front lines at the hospital are less skittish within their own thoughts, and now bring in a level of confidence.
“Last spring and this fall, you would treat a patient as you would anyone else, but what does not enter my mind anymore is that I am there in the room with a COVID-19 positive patient and the voice of my mind isn’t constantly screaming at me with questions like is the seal on my mask broken, how long can I hold my breath or did I put my visor down,” she said. “That was a constant thing inside of you. That voice had lessened in volume over the months, but now it’s very distant. It’s not like I’m not going to abandon my gown or mask, but I don’t have that screaming banshee in my psyche any longer. I think the entire staff spent the entire year with their blood pressure up 20 points…That constant stress and anxiety has lifted. There’s not as much gallows humor and there was a lot of gallows humor in the spring and from Thanksgiving to February.”
Frontline medical workers have been amongst the most compromised and most brave workers during the pandemic as they have had to risk their own health to be in close contact with those infected with the virus. Before now, that was being done with extreme precautions, but without a vaccine to give some measure of immunity. This month, that is all changing, and it’s very evident amongst the workforce, Lai Becker said.
“It’s not just panic, panic, panic anymore,” she said. “I get the sense people here are feeling more relaxed…It’s good habits without the intense panic of COVID-19.”
Right now, of the 4,100 employees in the CHA system, nearly everyone has received their first dose of the COVID vaccine. There are 3,500 that have already received their second doses as well, and she said they’ll have a couple more clinics in the coming weeks to close out their vaccine distribution efforts and everyone who wants to be vaccinated will have gotten the vaccine.
Having that kind of protected atmosphere transferred over to one of their co-workers at CHA Everett that was picked to go to the Super Bowl as part of the effort by the Kraft Family. That worker – who was fully vaccinated – got to take the Patriots plane to Tampa Bay, participate in the pre-game festivities and see the game.
Lai-Becker said the staff back in Everett were able to see the pictures and feel like they were all a part of it.
“I felt such a strange elation and joy,” said Lai-Becker. “Just being able to see her in pictures enjoy the time and think about how amazing it was she was fully vaccinated and could go there…In a way, it was like we all got to go.”
Though the usual precautions and protective gear have not been thrown to the wind and are used as they were during the surges of COVID, the vaccination mindset within the hospital is likely a preview to what can be expected in the coming months out in the community. While masks, social distancing and the like are probably here to stay, a sense of being able to live life outside of the home with a level of reassurance could be on the way.
That will only be heightened by the introduction of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine – which is one shot instead of two – that was approved last weekend.
Lai-Becker said it should enhance the supply and lead to more people being vaccinated, and because it is only one shot, the logistics will be far easier to tackle.
“It’s fantastic news logistically to be able to administer the one shot and also having it added to the supply,” she said. “I do understand the frustrations around getting people vaccinated. I do feel it’s great to prioritize, but if you’ve got the vaccine, you should give it to someone in front of you…It’s now going to be supply and demand. By having the one-shot J&J, it says to me from an operations perspective that each dose produced by J&J effectively doubles the number of doses available.”
Having the one-shot available also prevents inevitable mistakes where a person gets the first dose and then a different dose of another vaccine – or misses the second dose after getting the first.
CHA has opened up a vaccine site at the Somerville Hospital location, and they are vaccinating about 700 people a day. She said she gives a “shout out” to CHA and every other institution trying to get the vaccine out.
“It’s not easy,” she said.
•FEWER CASES, JUST ANOTHER AILMENT
The approach to COVID-19 has also changed quite a bit in the last month as well, and the crises around COVID and behavioral health and a shortage of available beds has eased out significantly.
There are also far fewer cases coming in, and when they come in, they are addressed in the same way that an injury or chest pains might be – just another possibility for why a patient might have an emergency.
No day is the same when it comes to COVID, she said. Some days there might be many cases and other days there might be none. The Emergency Department, now, can also be very busy but not have a single case of COVID come through the door – which hasn’t been the case in previous months.
“Last Friday it was a high volume day in the ER where everyone did have COVID,” she said. “However, we were calm. We evaluate and a patient might not need to be admitted, or they might need to be admitted. It wasn’t chaotic…On Monday, though, no one had COVID. It was injuries, chest pains and bacterial infections. If you look back over the next two days it’s not the same as the previous two days. If you go day by day, one day everyone will have COVID. The next day they won’t. But it’s all okay.”
•MORE BEDS AND MORE GLOVES
Dr. Lai-Becker indicated that the shortage of beds for admissions has lessened. She said they had been doing regional calls between institutions two times a day. Then they were down to one time a day, and now they’ve gone 10 days without a daily call to coordinate patient admissions.
“If we call for a bed, there will be a bed,” she said.
Meanwhile, certain shortages of equipment are now easing out. Supply chain has been an issue all throughout the pandemic, and occasionally it will pop up in the hospital – then resolve itself again.
A few weeks ago, there was a shortage of protective gloves in certain sizes at the hospital. That, however, is no longer the case, but certainly some other supply chain issue will present in the near future. “The glove size issue seems to have righted itself,” said Lai-Becker.