I have a few topics for the column today, with the first one being a somber but important day of remembrance.
I must share my thoughts about the importance of tomorrow. This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack by terrorists on the United States.
Like so many of you, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when this happened. It was a Tuesday morning – so therefore, I was attending in the adult Emergency Department. On Tuesday mornings, the residents attended conference so the adult ED usually had a quieter-than-normal feel to it. I overheard some of the nurses talking about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center and made my way to the back, where a small TV was mounted to the wall. I watched as the second plane hit.
As I came to the awful realization that this was not an accident, the already unusual quietness of the place took on the sense of a moment frozen in time. It dawned on me this was an act of terrorism and that we had been attacked (at that time, I didn’t know by whom) on U.S. soil. So many questions with no answers, but even then, I knew life had changed.
The days and events that followed blur a bit in my memory. I have since visited the 9/11 museum and Ground Zero memorial in New York several times. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend visiting. Simply breathtaking.
For all who lost their life that day – we must never forget. For all who gave their life that day trying to save their fellow man – we must always honor. For all who protect us each and every day – thank you. My favorite Marshall Ramsey drawing ever (pictured above) is one he drew shortly thereafter depicting Americans Before and After the Attack. Honestly, while I would NEVER wish for another 9/11, we could use a little of the “after the attack” sense of unity about right now.
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There were some big announcements made yesterday by the White House regarding COVID-19 vaccinations. One in particular relates to institutions like us that are designated as a Medicare and Medicaid-certified facility, meaning we receive insurance payments from those two programs for services provided.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services distributed a press release announcing that employees who work in a health care setting that receives Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements – which is the vast majority and includes long-term-care centers – will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The deadline date for this compliance measure, made in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be released later, likely sometime in October.
The reasons given in the press release for this action sound very familiar to those we’ve provided as to why we felt it was important to mandate the vaccine for our employees and students. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra had this to say: “There is no question that staff, across any health care setting, who remain unvaccinated pose both direct and indirect threats to patient safety and population health. Ensuring safety and access to all patients, regardless of their entry point into the health care system, is essential.”
This announcement that covers an estimated 17 million health care workers mirrors and validates the proactive decision we announced last month to make being fully vaccinated a condition of UMMC employment or enrollment. We believed then as we still do – and according to this latest announcement, a belief shared by our nation’s health care leaders – that all UMMC personnel being fully vaccinated is the right, safest thing for our patients.
The vaccines are safe (fully FDA approved and backed by just about every national professional medical organization, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which vehemently encourages pregnant or child-bearing-age women to be vaccinated), effective (data proves again and again that being vaccinated decreases your risk of contracting the virus and significantly decreases the chance for serious symptoms even if you do), accessible (there’s a clinic, hospital or pharmacy around nearly every corner that has a vaccine available) and free.
As mentioned in yesterday’s memo, today is the deadline for employees to receive a first shot of a two-dose vaccine to be able to get the second dose by the vaccination policy deadline for Phase II, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021.
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I was very happy to see today’s report of the number of patients with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in our hospitals as of this morning – 95. Looking back over the past few weeks, it’s great news that we’re again – for today, anyway – below triple digits. Just two weeks ago, that number was nearly 150, and the last time we were below 100 was Friday, Aug. 6.
Let’s hope this steep decline in COVID-19-related hospitalizations in our hospitals and those across the state continues. We need this wave to get behind us so we can all catch our breath, and hope that it’s the last significant surge we see (which really can only be expected if we can eclipse the 70% vaccinated mark for all eligible Mississippians.)
The declining number of Mississippians who require hospitalization because of their COVID-19-related symptoms made it possible for us earlier this week to work with Samaritan’s Purse to move patients receiving care in their Garage C-based field hospital into UMMC patient rooms. Since they established their emergency mobile operation in mid-August, Samaritan’s Purse provided significant assistance in mitigating the overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients that we were seeing all through last month and into the current one. We are very appreciative of their involvement in our efforts to care for Mississippians.
Also transitioning from a temporary, mobile operation is our monoclonal antibody treatment clinic, which has been operating in Garage B. That publicly available clinic will cease operations this weekend and a new treatment clinic will open in the Jackson Medical Mall for UMMC patients by referral of a UMMC provider. More details on this new clinic and how to refer patients will be distributed to providers early next week.
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All of these updates have a similar bottom line: We are always stronger when we are joined together. Here at the Medical Center, I think we’ve done a great job to act as a team to care for all who enter our doors and to keep them safe. I’m proud of how we have brought all of our resources to bear during this pandemic as we strive, every day, to create a Healthier Mississippi.