Health Care

Florida CEO urges crucial COVID-19 vaccine conversations amid personal loss and protests

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COVID-19 hit home for me some time ago, but never as hard as it did on Friday the 13th.

With 209 people battling COVID-19 and 574 other patients with serious to severe medical conditions in the hospital that day, the entire team at Sarasota Memorial Hospital was stretched beyond thin. Staff, space and supplies were reaching a critical tipping point.

As I made rounds and checked in with our COVID unit leaders that busy August morning, I felt a familiar sense of awe for the doctors, nurses, therapists and other members of the team improvising and innovating to care for the daily influx of patients infected with this dread disease.

But two unfamiliar emotions also churned inside me: Fear—for my 81-year-old father-in-law Rodney who was among the patients struggling to breathe in one of our COVID overflow units—and disbelief, that protesters demonstrating against our COVID-19 policies and protocols would gather outside the hospital that day.

Hospitals are places of hope and healing, and the protesters disrespected 7,400 healthcare heroes at SMH who have been entrenched in this life-and-death battle for 18 months. Despite being personally impacted by the pandemic, our team soldiers on, supporting one another as they tend to each of our patients with diligence and dedication.

They are emotionally and physically drained, yet give their all every day, 24 hours a day, to save lives and comfort those in crisis. They deserve our unwavering gratitude and support, and they certainly have mine.

I know they did all they could to save Rodney, but on Monday, Aug. 16, after a valiant two-week battle with COVID, he succumbed to the virus. On Aug. 21, we held a graveside service with military rights and said our final goodbyes to my wife Monica’s beloved father, our two daughters’ loving grandfather and the man I was fortunate to call Dad.

Rodney will remain an unforgettable influence in our lives and his wide circle of family and friends. He trusted the science and knew his serious, underlying respiratory condition made him more vulnerable than most. He was among the first wave of seniors in our community to be fully vaccinated, and planned to get his third-dose booster as soon as it was available to him.

Unfortunately, as we see every day, the same cannot be said for the vast majority of patients currently being hospitalized from COVID-19. Nearly all deaths from COVID-19 today are now among the unvaccinated.

Leaders in healthcare have a responsibility to step up when public health crises occur. Whether caused by a natural disaster, unequal access to care, or a global pandemic, healthcare challenges remind us to remain above politics, to provide transparency and clarity of purpose, and, above all, to be a resource for trusted guidance that is based on science.

In honor of Rodney—and the hundreds of thousands of others we have lost to this pandemic—we should all be leading discussions in our communities and workplaces that encourage everyone to do all they can to put this crisis behind us—to help stop the surge in needless and heartbreaking death from COVID-19. To trust the science and take the vaccine.


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