President's Message

November 12, 2021

Guest Written by Eric Stader, MD – WAFP First Vice President

Thriving in the Midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic - Part 2

This is part two of a three-part series that was started in July. If you missed it, or just need a refresher, you can catch part one here.

On a Friday morning in late March of 2020, I completed several colonoscopies and a colposcopy on my usual procedure day.  It was the last day for elective cases in our hospital for 7 weeks.  In the weeks that followed, we had the occasional surgical case, and I did a few C-sections, but our otherwise active ORs and endoscopy suite were uneasily quiet.  I can only imagine what this was like for those of you in larger hospitals where the patient volumes are orders of magnitude more than ours.  At our small critical access hospital in rural SW Wisconsin, there were no furloughs like we saw at larger systems.  Nurses and other support staff, much like physicians and providers, generally desire to be busy caring for patients.  Waiting for something bad to happen erodes morale, but we are blessed with people who cared for and encouraged one another through the calm.

Many clinics adjusted schedules and some even closed for anything but emergencies.  Decisions were made without much useful information due to the newness of the pandemic.  At our clinic, we chose to remain open to serve our communities and care for our patients.  We segregated the waiting area into seating for the “sick” and the “well” and designated 2 exam rooms for those with symptoms of respiratory illness.  Patients who wanted to reschedule appointments did, and we contacted the patients at greater risk proactively, but most were comfortable seeing us in person. 

Hours not spent seeing patients we spent planning and implementing alternative methods for care.  Creativity and flexibility were prioritized as we sought to maintain the quality of patient care that we are known for.  On March 24, 2020, I did my first four telemedicine visits with patients.  We sent experienced nurses to the homes of patients at greater risk, such as a gentleman with a recent renal transplant.  In the hills of our area, connectivity is often an issue, but a repurposed tablet with cellular connection was all we needed.  The nurse would assess the patient, obtain vitals, draw labs, review medications, and then connect the patient with us for video chat.  The novelty of telemedicine soon wore off, and we missed the interpersonal interaction, physical touch, and subjective clinical information we are so accustomed to gaining in the usual office visit.   However, the convenience of the modality for some patient visits cannot be ignored.

Many of you may remember the outpouring of community support and appreciation for first responders, nurses, physicians, and other health care personnel.  PPE was in short supply, and every hospital and clinic worked to secure whatever supplies could be found.  Similar to the hoarding and subsequent shortage of toilet paper in the community, some struggled to secure masks, gowns, or gloves.

A common sentiment emerged soon as many sat idle and the overwhelming wave of Covid19 patients didn’t come could be summarized in this sentence: “We are healthcare professionals, when can we go back to work?”  A few of us family physicians joined the orthopedic surgeon, gynecologist, and urologist in calling for cases to resume.  Our surgical staff made plans for testing prior to scheduled elective cases, and protocols were developed for cleaning, room air exchange parameters, and PPE rationing.  In mid-May, we reopened with a few colonoscopies for me on Friday followed by a total hip on the following Monday.  By summer, we were catching up on the deferred cases, with a little extra pre-op planning for testing.

Next time, the long-awaited wave of cases and then the good news of immunizations….

Sign up to the
WAFP Email List