UK HealthCare Reflects on Year of Resiliency and Perseverance During COVID-19
By Kristi Willet, Director of Medical Campus Public Relations
March marks one year since the COVID-19 global pandemic disrupted and altered everyone’s life. As we reflect on the past year, it is not just the challenges and hardships remembered but also the resiliency and perseverance of everyone from patient care providers at UK HealthCare on the front-lines taking care of COVID-19 positive patients to those in our clinical laboratories, our emergency departments, our ambulatory clinics and environmental services employees. Regardless of their position or role, everyone was impacted in a million big and small ways.
“If anyone was ever unsure whether by working in the health care field, they were making a difference, we have truly seen that we do,” said Dr. Mark Newman, UK executive vice president for health affairs. “If I were to describe a silver lining of the COVID19 pandemic, it would be that people now truly understand the value of UK HealthCare and our health care workers.”
On March 6, it was one year since Kentucky confirmed the first case of COVID-19 – a patient admitted to University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital.
However, preparations for what eventually became a pandemic began as early as mid-January 2020 when UK HealthCare began taking precautions such as screening patients who traveled to China during the holiday break and then returned to the University of Kentucky campus.
Later in January, a workgroup of senior administrators from UK HealthCare, the University of Kentucky President’s Office, Emergency Management, the International Center, Risk Management, Human Resources, and Communications was formed to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our entire campus community in light of the international outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Then, in March after the first patients were diagnosed in the state and Kentucky and the U.S. began measures to restrict gatherings and implement stay at home measures, UK HealthCare like all health care facilities had to prepare to treat COVID-19 patients while protecting staff and seek innovative ways to provide care. Telecare became the primary means for patient visits for most ambulatory clinics and within just the first few weeks, more than 11,000 visits were completed in 107 UK clinics.
One of the biggest milestones during the past year was also an early win with in-house COVID-19 testing through UK’s clinical laboratories. UK HealthCare’s clinical microbiology lab has been providing in-house COVID-19 testing since March 21. A year later, the lab has conducted more than 112,000 total tests.
The number of COVID-19 positive inpatients remained low and steady through the first several months of the pandemic — averaging at most, 25 by early fall. However, in mid to late October, the number of inpatients increased to about 50 inpatients in COVID units. By the end of December and early in January, that number would peak at a little over 120 COVID positive inpatients before gradually falling to current levels of around 20 inpatients in March 2021.
During the same time as this surge of patients during the holiday season, the hope that everyone had been awaiting also was found in the approval and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. On Dec. 16,the first front-line employees at UK HealthCare receive the Pfizer vaccine and about 1,950 front-line health care workers who either take care of COVID-19 patients or who are exposed to patients being ruled out for the virus, received their first dose of the two-dose vaccine.
UK HealthCare Chief Pharmacist Philip Almeter said there was a lot of excitement in the room when the first vaccinations were administered. “This isn’t the end, but it’s the start to the end and it’s nice to know that our effort is contributing to the end,” Almeter said.
Dr. Charles Eckerline, vice chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine, was among the first physicians at UK to receive the vaccine. “I was very fortunate to get it so quickly, I have a lot of exposure in the emergency department. I think it’s kind of a big deal after the year that this country has been through.”
And while UK HealthCare workers continued to be vaccinated, another huge step in the battle against COVID began Jan. 19, 2021, when UK, UK HealthCare and UK Athletics partnered to offer a public vaccination clinic at Kroger Field, UK’s football stadium.
“I am so proud everyday of our team as we’ve struggled through this year because despite the challenges, we’ve taken the opportunity to make a difference,” Newman said. “I’ve felt many moments of pride and satisfaction in our team’s work including what we’ve done around providing vaccinations. As much as people have worked tirelessly this year, now so many of them also volunteer at the vaccination clinics.”
Approximately 120 staff members and volunteers work at Kroger Field each day — serving in roles from immunizers to wayfinders. Currently, as many as 450 Kentuckians per hour are vaccinated. In less than three months, nearly 110,000 people from throughout Central Kentucky have been fully vaccinated at the Kroger Field Vaccination Clinic.
“That is hope that is delivered through our efforts,” Newman said. “Despite what we have lived and lost, we also have gained a new appreciation for our own strength and ability to impact the health of our community.”