Nate Blackford FB

Nate Blackford

President of Mosaic Medical Center - Maryville

Over the past week or so, I have read dozens of articles from health care executives and leaders across the country providing insight from the year that just passed and hopes for the one ahead. Out of those articles, one stood out to me.

Dr. Katie Dias, the administrator and a primary care physician at Mosaic Medical Center – Albany, authored an article entitled, “New Year, New Outbreak Outlook.” If you haven’t had the pleasure to meet Dr. Dias, she was born and raised in Albany, and now calls Stanberry home along with her husband and two young children. In short, she understands, appreciates and is highly vested in rural northwest Missouri. Her recent article, with excerpts below, hit on some salient points as we rapidly move into 2022.

“How were you feeling a year ago? Strange question but give it some thought. The year 2020 was ending (thank goodness!), and the hope of a new year was at the forefront of all our minds. For myself, I was half-vaccinated and wholly optimistic that 2021 would be a year of making up for all the fun I missed the year before. It would be the year I could go back to wearing makeup on the lower half of my face (under a mask, what’s the point?) and spending less money on the treatment of my “maskne.” I looked forward to family gatherings and less fear of my children being quarantined. I hoped I could worry less about the mental and physical health of my coworkers and my patients.

In my mind, 2021 was looking up. I quickly realized, though, that 2021 would be no less challenging than the year before.

The rise of the Delta variant ushered us into a new wave of this pandemic storm. Once again, we found ourselves cancelling plans, adding to our work schedules, and watching every new statistic that came out, trying to predict the future for our communities …

Let’s consider a phrase we use in health care quite frequently: avoidable suffering.

Pre-pandemic, avoidable suffering was a term we referred to in the context of patient comfort. Providing warm blankets to a chilled patient, allowing a patient to eat as soon as permitted, treating pain from broken bones — these are just a few examples. Doing the right thing for a patient’s comfort, knowing that their illness itself is causing enough suffering.

Avoidable suffering takes on new meaning for us these days. Day after day, we take in and care for patients with preventable morbidity. Based upon our local data, we know — without a doubt — that vaccination against COVID-19 reduces your risk of death from COVID-19 to less than 1%.

The overwhelming majority of patients in our COVID unit are unvaccinated. As we watch them gasp for breath, heads in their hands, leaning forward trying to fill their stiff lungs with the extra oxygen we provide, our hearts ache knowing that a simple vaccine could have prevented all of this.… Health care workers — your local health care workers — are silently screaming for an end to this avoidable suffering.

As I’ve said before, we cannot run out and share the stories of the sickest of our patients because they are not our stories to tell. Those who we have watched hour after hour, medication after medication, nursing them back to health — it is up to them to tell their stories.

We have worked our way through the curveballs of 2021 — Delta variant being the biggest one. As 2021 closes, we see 2022 now through the lens of the already here Omicron variant and the strain it will potentially place on our resources.

Please think about, if your community hospital and its staff are caring for those with COVID, what and who will be available to care for you or your loved one when stricken with the “non-COVID” serious illnesses such as heart attack or stroke? My friends this is real. This isn’t fake news. This is an absolute reality that happens every day, whether you see it or not.

So where is the hope in 2022? I’ll get my COVID sentiments out of the way first — get your vaccination. Get your booster. Vaccinate your loved ones, including your children, if they qualify for vaccination. Get your flu shot as it is here, too. If you can’t vaccinate for some reason (please consider taking appropriate risk mitigation steps)…

Non-COVID hopes for 2022? I hope we can continue to foster the element of community that is best witnessed in our rural areas. We say hello when we meet someone on a sidewalk, in the grocery store, or pumping gas at the local convenience store. Heck, we wave at each other when we are driving, whether we know you or not. Keep caring for each other. Keep up with good deeds, helping others for no other reason than the fact that we are all human. Speak kindly to one another. Volunteer. Join a club. Do the right thing when nobody else is looking. Smile.”

Wishing you a Happy New Year!