A view from the COVID frontlines in Southern California

January 28, 2021 Lisa Vance


Editor’s note: Lisa Vance, Providence’s President of operations and strategy for Alaska Oregon, Montana and Washington, originally published this article on her internal blog. We felt the perspective Lisa provides and the stories from the front-line both demonstrate the dire situation facing California hospitals and the power of the One Providence healthcare network.

​​​​​​​ In a year of twists and turns, I sometimes think I’ve seen it all. And then something else happens – and this one has me in awe. I want to share with you the extraordinary work being done in Southern California as they are literally overrun with COVID patients.

I’m going to start with our hospital in Apple Valley – St. Mary’s. If you have a few minutes, watch this CNN story: ‘A hellscape’: What Covid-19 looks like in rural California. It is anguishing to watch our caregivers, knowing how their bodies and minds must hurt with the agony of caring for so many critically ill patients. At St. Mary’s, they have literally created space in offices and conference rooms to care for critically ill patients. I am equally in agony for these patients and families who suffer.

These are desperate days in California for all hospitals. In southern California alone, we had nine of our hospitals with a census over 100% – and half their patients were COVID. There is no end in sight for California hospitals. I am in awe of the fortitude of these caregivers who don’t give up. They are there for each other, for our patients and for our communities.

I am equally in awe of 53 Oregon caregivers who have volunteered to spend a week in SoCal to support the hospitals in California.

The first to go was Debby Gentzen, our chief strategy officer. Debby rang in the New Year down in California, away from family and home, and spent her days supporting supply chain – stocking carts, helping to unpack and distribute supplies, prepping crash cart trays and cleaning equipment. Says Debby: “It was one of the most rewarding weeks of my career.  Every single person contributed to caring for patients, with compassion and excellence.”

​​​​​​​Ryan Hutchinson, director of diagnostic imaging at Providence Medford, also spent more than a week there, working 12 hours a day. He commented on how friendly the team is and how very grateful they are for the volunteers coming to help. Says Ryan: “I’m amazed by their resilience, given the circumstances and challenges before them.”

He also gave perspective on the hospital census while he was there (it hasn’t gotten any better):

“This hospital is licensed for 212 beds and has a 30-bed emergency department. The census this morning was 285 patients – 60 of these patients were being held in the emergency department hallways, nooks, offices, and outpatient waiting areas. Of the 285 patients, more than half of them are COVID-positive. Privacy and comfort is hard to come by, but the team is doing their very best with the resources they have, for the number of people in need.”

​​​​​I want to share a brief note from my colleague Southern California Chief Executive Eric Wexler (he and his exec team all are volunteering), who said this: “Lisa, on behalf of all of us, thank you from the very bottom of our hearts for this support. It will make a world of difference. This is the power of ONE Providence!”

I’m going to close with echoing a comment from Ryan, who says: “I have never been more proud to be a person of Providence.”

And that, team, is why in a year of twists and turns, I am awed by these stories.

Related resources

KGW | Providence caregivers step up to help CA

KATU | Medford hospital worker helps with COVID-19 surge in California


About the Author

Lisa is the president of operations and strategy for our northern regions: Alaska, Oregon, and Washington and Montana. Lisa has been with Providence for 35 years in a range of leadership roles. In the Oregon region she served as chief executive for Providence Portland Medical Center, and chief executive for Oregon Clinical Programs and Home and Community Services. She also served in a system role in Clinical Program Services, helping establish our clinical institutes.

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