Hospital officials reflect on a year of COVID challenges

WWNY Hospital officials reflect on a year of COVID challenges

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A year into COVID-19, we look back at the challenges hospitals faced and continue to meet.

“I’m tired and I think that I can probably speak for most of us in health care. I think we all are, but at the same time, I think we are starting to feel a little bit of relief,” said Karen Abare, who leads infection prevention and control at Samaritan Medical Center.

Abare and the staff there have battled COVID-19 head on.

“We recognize that we had the change and we had to change quickly,” said Leslie DiStefano, SMC spokesperson.

Each hospital scaled up its bed capacity, stocked up on hard-to-find protective gear, and built drive-thru or outdoor testing sites.

Samaritan also created a COVID resource phone line, answering thousands of calls.

“We were universal masking, goggle use, limiting visitation, screening our employees all before it was actually required because we knew it was the right thing to do,” said DiStefano.

Dr. Julie Vieth, an emergency physician at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, says being flexible was critical.

“In the emergency department, we flexed into some spaces that we had not previously occupied so that all of our patients could be protected, not just our COVID patients, but our non-COVID patients as well,” she said.

Some say changes in rules and restrictions were challenging, but hospital staff stepped up, like Dr. Sean Harney from Lewis County Health System.

“It was all hands on deck. Guys who wear ties from the C-suite were out in the trailer running tests,” he said.

Dr. Vivian Keenan works with some of the most severe COVID patients at Samaritan. Keenan is a doctor who cares for people’s lungs. She says phones and video cameras have come in handy while we’ve all kept our distance.

“Telemedicine or telehealth, I think that’s something that’s really come to the forefront in the pandemic and I think that’s going to be here to stay,” she said.

Dr. Keenan, like many of us, has not been able to see some of her loved ones.

“Looking forward to being able to see family,” she said.

The key, they say, is getting the shot.

“I think I almost cried the day I got my first vaccine,” said Dr. Vieth.

“The vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Harney.

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