Geisinger: ‘We can never let our guard down’
For the past year, the country has lived in the midst of a pandemic of a magnitued that most people have never anticipated. It has dominated our lives and the news.
So, what comes next? What have medical personnel learned from trying to navigate the crisis, and what will the delivery of health care look like in a post-pandemic world?
“I think we learned that we don’t have to do it the same way we always did,” said Dr. Gerald Maloney, chief medical officer for hospital services at Geisinger.
“We’ve learned an awful lot about how to use technology to bring care, especially to rural areas. We bring specialty care directly into your home through video,” he said. “The ability to use technology to supplement the way we deliver health care is one of the key learning we’ve taken away.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, the nation saw pleas for more ventilators, but, according to Maloney, what is more critical are the health care workers who are able to run the ventilators and care for patients on them.
“From the beginning, people talked about, ‘Do you have enough ventilators? Do you have enough ICU beds?’ I would say to them, ‘We probably have more than we need,’ because if we don’t have anybody to run the ventilator, then I don’t even need it,” Maloney said.
“So, I don’t have a nurse, I don’t have a respiratory therapist. These resources were actually more critical because they couldn’t be produced. You could buy ventilators. You could build ventilators. You can buy hospital beds. But, you couldn’t produce a nurse that had critical care experience. You couldn’t produce your respiratory therapist who knew how to manage a patient on a ventilator,” he added.
Maloney stressed the importance of the nursing staff during the pandemic.
“I would say to people, ‘The nurses are more valuable than electricity.’ If I don’t have a nurse, all the lights can be on and we’re still in trouble,” he said.
Taking nurses out of the clinics and putting them in the hospitals was also illustrative of how important the nurses are, Maloney said.
“I think we learned a lot about needing to look at using other health care providers to do some of the functions that were traditionally reserved to nurses,” he said.
“Could we use a medical assistant to give injections? We’re finding that out now as we roll out the vaccine. Could we take a licensed practical nurse and train her up to do some of the functions of respiratory therapists so that the respiratory therapists could go into the ICU and work with the patient on the ventilator?”
Going forward, it will be important to be able to spread functions around and “not have strict lines where one health profession ends and the next begins.”
Maloney highlighted several shifts in the delivery of care brought about by the pandemic. Patients can now benefit from a mail order pharmacy. In addition to telemedicine, health care providers were able to take people out of the emergency room and send them to their homes for in-home care.
He argued that many of these measures would decrease the cost of health care in this country by offering alternatives to in-hospital care.
“The care that we provide you is actually at a much lower cost than putting someone in the hospital. I think that we have found, almost through serendipity in the pandemic, ways to give quality health care that costs less than the way we provided it before,” Maloney said.
When the pandemic is finally resolved, Maloney cautioned that we should not go assume that something like this could never happen again.
“We can never let our guard down to always have a supply chain to provide us with the equipment we need, and quickly, in the event that … we need to be able to ramp up more quickly,” he said.
“And we also need to realize now and forever that public health trumps politics. Masks are a public health measure, they are not a political statement,” he said.
Meanwhile, construction has continued at Geisinger’s Muncy site, Tammy Anderer, chief administrative officer of Geisinger’s north-central region, said. It is on schedule for an opening in the fall.
“Despite the pandemic, the project has remained on track, and we’re looking forward to bringing new services to the area,” she said.
Some of the services being brought to the area include an emergency department, clinical decision unit, inpatient care, imaging and lab services, medical oncology and infusion services, cardiology, general surgery, outpatient therapy and pharmacy.
In addition, Geisinger is poised to open a new outpatient clinic in Lock Haven. The two-story facility will offer a walk-in Geisinger Convenient Care for urgent care needs and a Geisinger Pharmacy, Anderer said.