It has been a long eight months since COVID-19 arrived in force across our region. We braced ourselves as a community and fought hard and successfully through the spring to get the pandemic under control.
We made and continue to make sacrifices by curtailing celebrations of milestones large and small, from graduations to holidays to birthday parties. We have watched our children adapt to a whole new form of virtual learning and supported them through the tough disruption of their normal childhood activities of school, sports and play. And, we suffered the greatest loss of all as the virus took the heaviest toll on so many who experienced the loss of loved ones.
Our summer months were more encouraging as the virus abated and we were able to spend time outdoors at a safe distance from one another. We grew more cautiously optimistic and eagerly welcomed news of vaccines on the distant horizon.
With the arrival of fall, we saw the first signals of the pandemic’s resurgence across Europe, in the United States and, now, with staggering numbers in our own communities. As the area’s largest health care system and academic physician provider network, we are particularly concerned for what this means for patients, our team members and our greater communities. As those daily numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases spike at an alarming rate every day, we know that a large number of those individuals will wind up in our emergency departments, on our patient floors and in our intensive care units.
With the positive cases growing exponentially and our COVID-19 hospital admissions already the highest they have ever been, BJC HealthCare and Washington University Physicians are preparing now for how we will handle this inevitable surge of patients who we know will need our services. As of November 16, we are suspending some elective surgery and other procedures that can be postponed safely. We must take this drastic measure both to increase our hospital capacity and ensure we have the staff available to continue providing exceptional care for our patients. An available room means nothing if there is not a nurse at the bedside.
We could not be more proud of our physicians and caregivers – at the bedside and in supporting roles – and how they have stepped up to respond to the needs of our patients throughout this pandemic. These are the people for whom health care is not a job, but a calling, and they are the ones we turn to in times of need. We made this decision in an effort to support our team members as best we can.
Now, we also turn to you for your support. There are clear steps to take that are proven to reduce the spread of the virus. As basic as it seems, our greatest protection against COVID-19 while we await a safe and effective vaccine is a mask – a piece of cloth worn over the mouth and nose. Social distancing of at least six feet is another basic defense. It is important to wear a mask even when you social distance. Frequently washing your hands or using hand sanitizer kills germs and prevents transmission. Avoiding large gatherings also makes a big impact.
We know how tiresome and restrictive this is. We are all collectively weary of these measures. But, they continue to be our best defense and we must dig deeper to stay the course while the vaccines continue to be developed and produced.
Thank you for caring about our health care providers. We were overwhelmed with gratitude early in the pandemic when donations of food and homemade masks arrived at our doors. Our hearts swelled when caravans of supporters drove by our hospital campuses. Today, we ask that you share your concern by helping us manage the spread of the virus with simple things we are all able to do.
These steps can have an enormous impact on the health and well-being of our community. From the beginning, we have said we are all in this together. Now, more than ever, we need each other – for our health, for our safety, for our community.
Richard J. Liekweg
President and CEO
Paul J. Scheel Jr., MD
Chief Executive Officer
Washington University Physicians