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ONE YEAR LATER: CHI healthcare workers look back on COVID-19

Posted at 12:30 PM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 19:38:30-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — March 6 will mark one year since the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Nebraska and Omaha.

On Thursday, at CHI Health McAuley Fogelstrom Center, CEO Cliff Robertson, M.D., was joined by a panel of caregivers and leaders who contributed to the fight against COVID-19 across the CHI Health system and here in the Omaha Metro. The panel shared what those first few months caring for COVID-19 patients felt like, how they got through the fall surge, lessons learned, their hope for the future and more.

Those on the panel included:

  • Dr. Cliff Robertson, CEO, CHI Health: Dr. Robertson led operations throughout the pandemic for CHI Health’s 14 hospitals and more than 150 clinics
  • Dr. Renuga Vivekanandan, Chief of Infectious Diseases, CHI Health-Creighton University: Dr. Vivekanandan helped shape CHI Health’s COVID-19 care and contain the spread of the virus
  • Dr. David Quimby, Infectious Diseases Physician, CHI Health-Creighton University: Dr. Quimby also helped shape CHI Health’s COVID-19 care and, with Dr. Vivekanandan, played an important role in educating the community about the virus and the vaccine
  • Dr. Douglas R. Moore, Critical Care Director CUMC-Bergan Mercy, Pulmonologist, CHI Health-Creighton University: Dr. Moore was among the very first at CUMC-Bergan Mercy to care for the sickest COVID-19 patients. He also helped lead the use of new care techniques, research and resources for patients
  • Alisha Dunlap, RN, ICU Nurse, CUMC-Bergan Mercy: Dunlap was also among the first to care for the sickest COVID-19 patients at CUMC-Bergan Mercy and helped administer the very first dose of Remdesivir
  • Julie Gernetzke, Division Vice President, Operations and Development, CHI Health Clinic: Gernetzke was instrumental in standing up a COVID-19 Help Line for the community at the start of the pandemic and helped transition traditional clinic visits to virtual care or telehealth

The ongoing theme of the briefing was that teamwork by the community as a whole is what’s gotten us this far in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

“It has been a year that I think we may all choose, or we may want to forget. But I don’t believe it’s a year that we will ever be able to forget," CHI Health CEO Dr. Cliff Robertson said.

While medical professionals were doing their part, so were other members of the staff at CHI, said the healthcare workers in attendance. The same was said multiple times about members of the community who masked up and canceled or altered events to keep the spread down as well as businesses that altered operations — the list went on and on.

"I think that the turning point was everyone kind of doing their part...social distancing, wearing masks," ICU nurse Alisha Dunlap said.

Panel members thanked those leading the company for reminding them to take time for themselves to avoid burning out or suffering mentally because the experience of caring for others during the pandemic was taxing.

Dr. David Quimby said he wanted to remind people that the vaccines are safe — safe enough to enroll his own son in a COVID-19 vaccine trial for juveniles.

Earlier this year he participated in a trial of Pfizer’s vaccine as did Dr. Renuga Vivekanandan.

While we’ve come along way in regards to treatment and prevention options, Quimby said COVID is “not in the rear-view mirror yet” and that people need to continue to do their part in preventing the spread.

Dr. Vivekanandan said the same and that she expects COVID to be something we continue to deal with in the coming years. She added that what's been learned and fine-tuned will help continue the fight against the virus and other pandemics which may arise.

All said it was a rocky year but that their confidence in treating patients, who sometimes were family members and friends, has come a long way and that they're confident that they'll continue to improve treatment protocols.

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