Editor’s note: The following is a snapshot of the effects that COVID-19 has had on various segments of the Lawton population, outlined during a forum sponsored by Cameron University’s Bill W. Burgess Jr. Business Research Center.
While health care professionals are on the front line in the battle against COVID-19, the medical community as a whole is facing problems, said Elizabeth Jones, CEO of Southwestern Medical Center.
Jones said the health care industry “is not thriving.” While health care facilities have ramped up this year to care for patients with COVID-19, they have had to cut back on other medical services to balance needs and demands, something that has had to be done since the early days of the pandemic nine months ago. For example, Jones said most surgeries — especially elective, or those not critical — were curtailed to conserve materials, supplies and medical personnel.
In-person visits with doctors were replaced by virtual visits, as more patients opted out of appearing in person because they feared the virus. Elective surgeries, a cornerstone for funding hospital operations, were curtailed to preserve PPE. Jones smiles as she said that is another change prompted by the pandemic: people outside the medical profession now know that PPE means personal protective equipment. Earlier in 2020, using that phrase would have drawn blank stares, she said.
The goal as the pandemic began to ebb was to gradually return to elective surgeries, such as those for hernias and knees that can be done without being a drain on the PPE needed to deal with COVID-19 patients, Jones said.
“It’s complicated to find out how to get back to business,” she said, of the concern hospitals have to continue to stay profitable enough to cover operational expenses.
There also are practical concerns. Jones said plastic glass (used as shielding in public areas) has risen in price 100 percent “and is hard to find.” Reporting processes have greatly increased for hospitals, especially if they want to be reimbursed from CARES Act funding for COVID-19-related expenditures. And, duties among hospital personnel have continued to shift, as hospitals do more with less.
But, COVID-19 continues to be a deep concern for health care professionals as rates began to increase again, Jones said, noting that by early December, Oklahoma was 19th in terms of the fastest rising incidents of the virus, and fourth in the number of positive cases that result from test results. And, those rising numbers of COVID-19 are discouraging residents from coming to hospitals until they have to, meaning those patients are much sicker when they finally do come in, Jones said.