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GUEST COMMENTARY: 2021 brought needless tragedies at Perham Health

The following is an opinion piece submitted to the Perham Focus by a reader. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the newspaper. To submit a letter, send it to editor@perhamfocus.com or Perham Focus, 300 West Main Street, Suite C, Perham, MN 56573.

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Perham Health
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Where were you when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11? Where were you when JFK was assassinated? What was life like after the stock market crash of 1929? What did you do during the Spanish Flu of 1918?

These are the types of questions people ask for decades after very significant and tragic events occur in our country. I imagine there will be a day when my great-grandchildren ask me about the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are so many stories to tell from this past year.

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Chuck Hofius, Perham Health CEO

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Every Perham Health employee will tell the stories we’ve experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic for the rest of their lives. We are all forever changed. And, sadly, we are not done yet. The fight against the COVID-19 virus continues. When I wrote my blog at the end of 2020, I never dreamed 2021 would be an even harder year for our patients, our employees, our community, and our world.

There are so many stories to tell from this past year – like the patient whose friends and family talked her out of getting the vaccine, and she is now desperately hoping to get on a lung transplant list because her lungs are completely destroyed; the fairly young and otherwise healthy man who thought he was too healthy to need the vaccine and is no longer with us; the 30-something self-described exercise nut who is now on disability with long-term COVID-19. What breaks my heart is these stories should not have to be told.

We have available a very safe and effective vaccine.

If this pandemic had happened in 1918, there is no question that 99% of the people would have gotten vaccinated. Today, due to an insidious disinformation campaign, there are far too many stories of death – and an even greater set of stories about people living with very serious and permanent effects of the COVID-19 virus.

Yes, you can get COVID-19 after getting the vaccine, although at a fraction of the rate and severity of the unvaccinated. Rarely do vaccinated persons get seriously ill, hospitalized, or die. This truly is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Sadly, the unvaccinated are spreading the virus to the rest of us at an alarming rate.

The challenges have been great

We are experiencing the same staffing struggles that every industry is today. We struggle to get enough supplies and equipment because the demand across the country is so high. Every hospital across our region is full – some beyond full – not just with COVID-19 patients but with a wide variety of very ill people.

Because of this, we have difficulty finding a hospital to transfer patients that need a higher level of care. We have transferred patients to Wisconsin, Iowa, and South Dakota because there was no place closer to home.

Nursing homes across the state are struggling to find employees – as a result, over 70% of the state’s nursing homes have had to limit admissions. This makes it very difficult to find placement for patients that need this level of care after a hospital stay.

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As healthcare providers, we train and drill for events like this. But deep down, did we ever think this would happen? I, for one, have to admit I did not. We do case studies about how to ration healthcare. Did I ever believe in America we would be picking and choosing who gets care and who does not? I always knew it was a possibility, but I did not think it would ever happen.

Yet, here we are nearly every day deciding who gets the limited amount of monoclonal antibody treatments we have available; who gets the high flow oxygen machines when we only have four and six patients could use it and we cannot get more due to supply issues; when a bed finally opens at a referral hospital and we have three severely ill patients who have been waiting to transfer, which ones gets that bed; or when a nursing home bed finally opens up and we have four patients in our hospital waiting for placement, who gets discharged? These are ethical issues every hospital is grappling with – every day.

Ending the year with gratitude

Despite the emotional journey we have been on, I end this year with one primary feeling – gratitude. I am incredibly proud and eternally grateful for the amazing team we have at Perham Health. Employees show up every day to care for our community. They work long hours – and many extra shifts – taking care of people that are much sicker than they have ever cared for before.

Unlike most businesses, our employees have to wear masks all day long and are doing so to protect our community. Our employees remain positive, compassionate, and truly committed to excellent care and service. I couldn’t ask for a better team to walk alongside on this journey. As we end yet another year, please join me in thanking the amazing team that works across the continuum at Perham Health!

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