CEO of UNC Hospital: My teams are exhausted and need your help
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we often heard “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. While the marathon is an unprecedented test of endurance, at least everyone is the same distance – 26.2 miles. Over the past 18 months, our teammates across UNC Health have run this grueling race only to see the finish line pushed back time and time again.
We felt like we saw him briefly, in June, when hospitalizations in our statewide healthcare system hovered around 50 patients. From that point, however, we have climbed a hill that – like the growth of our COVID inpatient census – has become vertical and increasingly steeper each day.
We reverted to many of the mitigation measures from our previous pushes in the summer of 2020 and early 2021. The tents are pitched outside the UNC Rex emergency department to manage the overflow of patients seeking treatment. We have reduced the number of elective surgeries we perform. We postponed the opening a new hospital slated to open in Holly Springs so that our clinical care teammates are available to care for a growing number of COVID patients in Rex.
What we’ve been dealing with from mid-July to now, the rapid rise in hospitalizations, fueled by the delta variant and accelerated by vaccine reluctance, looks familiar, but looks very different from other times in the pandemic.
It’s frustrating and isolating in healthcare right now as we face more disease and suffering as other parts of society continue as if the pandemic is over. Our teams are simply exhausted.
UNC Health is proud to be North Carolina’s healthcare system. We work every day to fulfill our mission to improve the health and well-being of the people of North Carolina. It is a great privilege to care for patients in all 100 counties, but right now we need your help.
While the trend of COVID cases is somewhat encouraging, we still have hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who have not been vaccinated.
If you haven’t been vaccinated, don’t wait another day, and if you’ve been vaccinated before, cheer on family, friends and neighbors.
We have safe and effective vaccines that are free and widely available. We know they work. Over 381 million doses have been safely administered in the United States.
The numbers and trends in our hospitals right now couldn’t be clearer: Almost 90% of our COVID hospital patients are unvaccinated, 95% of our intensive care patients are unvaccinated.
The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and the best way to support our health heroes.
In July at UNC Medical Center, staff from the Cardiovascular and Thoracic Intensive Care Unit gathered outside for a UN game with a patient – the first post-COVID patient to receive a transplant from lung. The team treated this patient with incredible skill through a complex procedure and recovery, but the time they spent playing a simple card game, sharing a moment of pleasure and true human connection, testifies of their empathy. I can’t imagine running this race alongside better people.
Please get vaccinated and do all you can to protect those around you. Help us to put some wind in the back. Help put the finish line back on track.
Dr Wesley Burks is CEO of UNC Health Care and Dean of UNC School of Medicine. As CEO, he oversees UNC Health Care’s statewide network of affiliated hospitals and health systems.