CHI Saint Joseph Health Update: Pandemic One Year Later

Dr. Dan Goulson is Chief Medical Officer at St. Jospeh Hospital, 1 St. Jospeh Drive, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photograph by Rich Copley.

CHI Saint Joseph Update: Pandemic One Year Later
By Dan Goulson, MD, Chief Medical Officer, CHI Saint Joseph Health; Saint Joseph Hospital & Saint Joseph East

2020 was a year like no other. While we have dealt with infectious diseases in the past, the changing and prolonged nature of the COVID-19 pandemic brought many unique challenges, including those with PPE, staffing affected by quarantine, evolving guidelines and a fear of the unknown. It has also brought a renewed sense of how much our communities appreciate our health care heroes.

Through it all, our providers and employees have been flexible and resilient as they adjusted to new information, treatments and even ways to serve our patients. They have remained vigilant in adhering to recommended public health policies and practices – wearing a mask and social distancing – and encouraging the practice throughout our communities. 

We’ve gone through stages where our hospitals were closed to visitors, and continue policies of limited visitation not only in our hospitals, but also in our physician offices and clinics. In many cases, our physicians have utilized virtual visits to care for our patients, thereby further decreasing the number of people in our waiting rooms. Other steps we have taken to protect our patients, staff and community are continued COVID-19 screenings, including temperature checks, for anyone who comes into our facilities and testing for anyone having a procedure or surgery. 

There is light at the end of this long tunnel, but we believe these safety measures will be in place for the foreseeable future. The COVID-19 virus will likely be with us for a long time and we will need to remain vigilant in protecting against its spread through public health measures, masking and vaccinations. Experts believe the available vaccines will protect against new strains of the virus, although more studies are being conducted to determine whether a booster shot will need to be administered to improve immune response, just as we do with other viruses, such as the measles.

We recognize, however, that some people in our communities are hesitant about the vaccine, which could hinder progress in reaching herd immunity levels that will allow a return to normalcy. As the state continues to roll out its vaccination strategy and the supply becomes more abundant across Kentucky, we are working to educate our communities about the safety and efficacy of the three vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use. 

Life changed in so many ways over the course of the last year, and we learned a lot about how our employees, providers and communities come together in times of crisis.  We figured out ways to work together and be agile to solve problems. The collaboration took place between individuals, between specialties, between organizations, and amongst our community.  It was a pleasure to be a part of that process.

Looking ahead, one of our biggest concerns has been the hesitancy for many of our most vulnerable patients to return to physician offices and clinics for annual wellness visits and critical screenings. Studies have found that many Americans have put off not only routine medical appointments but also cancer screenings and vaccinations for their children during the pandemic. When patients do return, they’re often sicker and face even more consequences from their ailments.

As we move toward the summer months, we see brighter days ahead. We are thankful for the community support of our health care heroes who have served our patients and cared for those with the virus and those with other health care issues.