A look back on the pandemic (Opinion)

Julie Clayton
Guest column

A year ago, February 2020, Barton Health moved quickly to meet the emerging global public health crisis and prepare for its anticipated arrival in our region. Long days and nights were spent planning to ensure we were prepared to care for this community as well as our team members as best as possible amid the escalating COVID-19 pandemic.

Julie Clayton

Even while responding to a crisis filled with so many unknowns, we continued to provide exceptional patient care. Like all hospitals across the nation we routinely plan for disasters, including epidemics. But COVID-19 presented a different type of crisis, a long-lasting one that was first invisible, then all-consuming and frightening.

Amid this crisis, we pivoted quickly to protect our care providers, frontline employees and patients, while caring for an increasing number of patients with COVID-19 exposure and infection.

The exceptional team of physicians, nurses, clinicians and support staff at Barton all rose to the occasion. Every person was a critical component to the care delivered to Lake Tahoe residents and tourists alike, and I am grateful to each of them.

Barton immediately established a coronavirus health line, created testing sites in the community, began virtual patient visits, and set up a home hospital model enabling infected patients to stay at home under the care of a doctor and home health team, keeping them out of the hospital whenever possible. For patients who were experiencing more severe symptoms, staff and medical providers at Barton Memorial Hospital rapidly implemented new processes and procedures to care for patients battling a new virus.

Knowing we were likely to experience a surge of patients within our hospital, we implemented screening processes, limited visitation and supplied the care teams with personal protective equipment so we could safely assess and triage patients needing care.

To protect care providers and frontline employees, we spent more than $4 million on equipment, facilities and PPE including renovating 95 patient rooms into negative pressure care environments and supplying approximately 15,000 N95 masks to staff who treated highly-infectious patients. This was in addition to the amazing effort of our community who, through the Barton Foundation, supplied staff and many others in the community with needed items such as cloth masks as the pandemic began to take over our world.

By the end of 2020, more than 16,000 people called our COVID-19 Health Line; another 7,000 were tested at Barton; 25,000 participated in a virtual health visit and 39 patients who tested positive were able to be discharged early from the hospital to recover at home under the care of our clinicians. Additionally, we partnered with Eagle Telemedicine’s medical experts to provide a higher level of care to critical patients, helping to avoid transferring critically ill patients to other hospitals, which will now continue to be part of our care delivery moving forward.

Many of these new models of care are here to stay, providing lasting benefits to patients including virtual access to clinicians, a focus on helping patients heal within the comfort of their home.

This doesn’t mean the year passed without tragedy. Families in our community lost loved ones too soon and unexpectedly, forced to grieve in near isolation. This disease creates heartbreak while we must also hold on to hope every day.

We are not out of danger yet, but the future – today – looks better. Infection rates are down and vaccines are being administered across our region.

While we will remain vigilant until the end, I would be remiss if I didn’t again extend the credit for the work done this past year to every member of the Barton Health team. It has taken a massive, once-in-a-career effort on everyone’s part. To my Barton family, I thank you for your tireless commitment and compassion.

Julie Clayton, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, is chief nursing officer at Barton Health. Clayton has been a nurse for over 40 years including holding the chief nursing officer position for 20 years across six health organizations.

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