Column: Health systems at crossroads of dual crises

For the Valley News
Published: 9/3/2021 10:09:55 PM
Modified: 9/3/2021 10:10:06 PM

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage and cases of the dangerous and highly contagious delta variant claim more lives, we’re at a crossroads.

Across the nation, around the world and in every single aspect of our lives — in health care, certainly, but also in education, industry, finance, social interactions, in virtually every area of our existence — we continue to see and feel the pandemic’s impact. Even now, phrases like “these are unprecedented times” have lost their meaning. Things that were once unthinkable are now unsurprising.

At this crossroads, many of us in health care are taking stock of where we’ve been, where we are and, importantly, where we’re going. And it’s not just a philosophical crossroads. It is a very real crisis that we must resolve while facing the most significant public health crisis in generations. At the end of the day, one thing is clear: We must continue to protect the safety and health of all — our patients, our colleagues and our communities — and we must do whatever we can to ensure that safety. We must hold to the promise of keeping our doors open and being ready to serve the people who need us.

We’ve all been through a remarkable roller-coaster, emotionally and physically, in the last 18 months. We’ve faced the original uncertainty of the pandemic head-on in the spring and early summer 2020; we implemented strategies to keep ourselves safe that summer and fall; we were elated at the arrival of vaccines in the late fall and winter; and we enjoyed a brief period of respite when it looked like we were back to “normal” this past spring and summer.

But now, as another fall approaches, we’re back to facing uncertainty again as the virus mutates and spreads.

It has been exhausting for all of us.

As if the resurging pandemic didn’t provide enough pressure, one of the real challenges we face now is a shortage of staff.

An April 2021 study by the health care jobs marketplace Vivian found that four in 10 nurses (43%) are considering leaving their role this year. The figure is even higher among intensive care unit workers (48%). This is amid a nursing shortage that was just beginning when COVID-19 struck and has only worsened since.

In addition to the shortage of nurses, we are experiencing staff shortages in other areas across our health systems, including staff who schedule appointments and procedures, and staff who answer phones. These shortages are reported nationally, but they are being experienced acutely right here in our state and in our region.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, and providers around the state and the nation, are committed to keeping our hospitals staffed and our team members healthy so they can keep you healthy. This commitment to our mission is why we have mandated vaccination for our staff.

We know our patients and families are frustrated by long waits for appointments and procedures, as well as long hold times on the phone. We apologize for this. We are working as quickly and as diligently as we can to return to a full complement of staff. In the face of these many staffing challenges, we need to ask your patience as we look for answers.

You can depend on Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health’s unwavering commitment to do everything we can to provide our patients, their families, our colleagues and our communities with the highest-quality, safest care we possibly can. You can continue to count on us to make decisions based on the science, the evidence and established best practices for your care and in our planning to meet the ongoing challenges of the pandemic. This will be our course, unfailingly, for however long it takes to overcome the pandemic and staffing shortages.

Please know that is our privilege to serve you. Your confidence in us — our people and our care — is humbling. For more than 125 years you’ve been the reason we’re here.

More important, you’re the inspiration behind our commitment to stay here, long into the future.

Susan A. Reeves, of New London, is a registered nurse, executive vice president of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, and chief nursing executive of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system.

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy