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OP-ED: WellSpan officials: Before our hospitals can’t care for one more person

Allan Birenberg, Victoria Diamond, Roxanna Gapstur, Mark Goedecker and Carol Smith
Signs at the entrances of the WellSpan York Hospital complex highlight the continued issues with the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, November 11, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Each day for the last nine months, WellSpan Health’s doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and other team members have been caring for family, friends and neighbors affected by COVID-19 in south central Pennsylvania.

At WellSpan York Hospital and WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation Hospital, which is now caring for medical/surgical patients, nearly one out of every three hospital beds is occupied by our friends and neighbors suffering from COVID-19.

The strain on hospitals is intense, impacting our ability to perform routine surgeries and keep services open.

More:WellSpan to redeploy staff, create acute care unit amid COVID-19 surge

More:States submit vaccine orders as coronavirus death toll grows

More:As York County smashes COVID-19 records, Wolf implements new restrictions

Our team members — your friends and neighbors — are amazing people caring for people they know and love. That’s the commitment made by our care teams. It is WellSpan’s mission in action. Their mantra has been the same from the beginning of the pandemic: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stand 6 feet away from others.

Through long, exhausting shifts, our care teams wear heavy, hot personal protective equipment — masks, gowns, gloves, face shields — to ensure they don’t spread the virus to their co-workers, visitors or patients. They return, day after day, to see people they know struggling to breathe, fighting to live and looking for a hand to hold when visitors aren’t allowed. They work tirelessly every hour to keep people alive, sit with those who won’t make it and carefully tend those who have died without loved ones at their side.

Remember, they tell us: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stand 6 feet away from others.

Our care teams across WellSpan have cared for more than 2,000 hospitalized patients and gently held the hands of more than 300 people who died from COVID-19 in our hospitals. They have felt exhaustion, sadness, hope and anger. What they have asked of us are three simple things: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stand 6 feet away from others.

While the community and nation debate whether masks are helping slow the spread, our care teams continue to see the effects of the virus on those we love. While rumors abound that COVID affects “those over age 65,” or “only those in communal living situations,” our care teams watch young people, middle-aged people and older people succumb to the disease each and every day.

Now is the time to slow the spread of the virus — before it overwhelms our health care heroes, and we aren’t able to fulfill our mission to the community. Before our hospitals can’t care for one more person: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stand 6 feet away from others.

It might save your life.

— Allan Birenberg is vice president of Medical Affairs at WellSpan York Hospital; Victoria Diamond is the central region senior vice president for WellSpan Health and president of WellSpan York Hospital; Roxanna Gapstur is president and CEO of WellSpan Health; Mark Goedecker is the central region medical director for WellSpan; and Carol Smith is president of WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation Hospital.