It’s been more than two years since COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic. Well, technically, when this issue went to print, it has been two years, 18 days and four hours, but who’s counting? Luckily, the virus has waned enough recently that even the most cautious of us — including yours truly, a PPE-donning pessimist who still gets geared up in surgical garb to shop for my groceries — are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel and looking forward to, dare I say, some semblance of normalcy. Before we put COVID-19 too far in the rearview mirror, however, I think it behooves us all to do some reflecting on the lessons we’ve learned from this generational health crisis.
But Paula, we’re sick to death of this pandemic, can’t we just keep pushing ahead? I hear you, I really do, but here’s why we should fight that urge: I’m already seeing and hearing that some of the positive changes that came out of these trying two years (and 18 days and four hours) are being rolled back, with alarming numbers of facilities opting to return to the way things were before COVID-19.
Before folks get complacent, let’s look back at what we managed to accomplish against all odds. Healthcare providers, particularly the tough-as-nails facility leaders who never shy away from a challenge, showed how truly nimble they could be when they had their backs to the wall. You adjusted to sea changes in policies and procedures on a dime, came up with creative fixes to supply chain disasters and PPE shortages on the fly and somehow managed to take double the amount of infection control precautions in setting up and turning over rooms in virtually the same time frame as you did before COVID-19. You were rock stars, plain and simple. Remembering all that you accomplished — not to mention how quickly you accomplished it — during the darkest moments of the pandemic will serve you well as you meet the many challenges that are no doubt ahead.
We need to acknowledge the staggering toll this pandemic has taken on our sisters and brothers in the OR and beyond. While we are finally starting to constructively address the monumental mental health and well-being crisis facing our healthcare workers — many of whom voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way when we needed them most — we shouldn’t have waited until they were at or past their breaking point to do it. As staffing shortages and burnout continue to plague facilities of all stripes, it’s imperative for leaders to make easily accessible mental health resources available.
Believe me, no one wants to put the past two years of the pandemic behind us more than healthcare workers, but it would be a slap in the face to everyone who sacrificed their personal health, safety and well-being if we decided to go back to business as usual. There’s no doubt COVID-19 has changed every aspect of health care — including surgery — forever. The question now facing us is this: Will that change be for the better? OSM