By Christopher Hall, MD, Chief Medical Officer Providence St. Mary Medical Center
Recently I was in a local coffee shop talking with a group of regulars, and as the conversation turned to COVID-19 they expressed surprise that it was still a concern in this community. Everything is starting to look so normal.
It’s not. As I write this, every bed at Providence St. Mary Medical Center is occupied and there are 11 people in the Emergency Department waiting for a hospital bed to open. This appears largely due to COVID-19 and the continuing fallout from the pandemic.
Even though our county has among the most successful COVID-19 vaccination programs in the state, we continue to see a fairly consistent number of COVID-19 case that are somewhat skewed to the younger ages. On any given day, Providence St. Mary has between 3 and 6 patients in the hospital with COVID-19. Almost universally, they are unvaccinated. It is impossible to express how frustrating and painful it is for our care teams see the suffering this disease continues to cause in Walla Walla despite the wide availability of vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine is nearly is 100% effective against critical illness and death.
We are seeing a significant increase of patients in our Emergency Department and hospital for all causes, whether it is heart attacks, diabetes, pneumonia or a fracture from a frail person simply falling down. This is not unique to Providence St. Mary. It is similar to what is being seen across the state as well as nationally. In addition, we are experiencing a tremendous increase in patients needing services to address mental health issues.
Amid the strain of the pandemic, many of us have not been taking good care of ourselves, neglecting our insulin, cholesterol medications, exercise and social routines. Many elderly people have become deconditioned and do not have the stamina to safely move around. Many of us suffered greatly from the isolation, missing our families, friends and congregations. This has in turn led to a massive surge in depression, anxiety, substance abuse and excessive, unhealthy alcohol use.
At the hospital we can see that the pandemic is on the decline, and we want nothing more than to return to normal, but there remains a great deal of work to do for all of us who live in this community.
I believe we all need to refocus on our health and that of our neighbors. Getting vaccinated is essential to protecting ourselves and others. So is taking care of ourselves by taking time to exercise, see our providers, and be brave by reaching out to a mental health resource if needed. (Resources available at https://www.bluemountainhealthcooperative.org/)
Routine maintenance matters. Many of us take better care of our pets and cars than our minds and bodies. Be sure to check your cholesterol, refill that critical prescription and follow the not-always-exciting diabetic diet. I also would ask us to look after our neighbors, families and loved ones. Go check in on a neighbor, offer to take them to the YMCA, a church service or a park. Help a parent or grandparent find an exercise program or social group. Get your children 12 and over vaccinated and help all of them have a safe, outdoor play group. Finally, join a church or service organization to work for the broader good.
Our caregivers want you to know how much they appreciate the support the community has given them over the last 15 months. It made a difference during some very dark times. I am so proud of the caregivers who rushed forward to the frontlines. They have been steadfast in their calling to provide care for our community.
Providence St. Mary appreciates the community partners that have assisted us in so many ways, including local firefighters and EMS, Department of Community Health, independent providers, pharmacies, dentists, retired medical professionals, and others. We also very much appreciate the incredible number of community volunteers who gave their time and helped with the vaccine clinics.
Walla Walla has weathered a tremendous storm by working and caring together, but we are going to feel the effects of the pandemic for some time. It is upon all of us to take care of our families, neighbors and ourselves. This is the hard and hidden work of recovery.