Guest Columnist

Iowa hospitals are experiencing the worst chapter of the pandemic so far. Here's how you can stop it from getting worse.

UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran meets with The Gazette's editorial board and reporters in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 19,
UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran meets with The Gazette’s editorial board and reporters in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Fellow Iowans,

We are again in danger of losing control of this pandemic in Iowa. Our COVID positivity rates skyrocketed twice before, but this is the first time we have seen rates this high while also dealing with record patient hospitalizations.

Iowans have previously risen to the challenge to flatten the curve. The question now, is whether Iowans can rise to the challenge a third time. Personally, I believe that we can. But it will require immediate behavior modification by each one of us.

The health of every Iowan is at risk, COVID-related or otherwise.

If COVID cases continue to increase on this same trajectory, the health care system as we know it will look very different in 30 days. Hospitals may need to:

l Revise schedules to ensure we can take care of critically ill patients, as well as our essential health care workers, meaning reduced availability of health care services.

l Make difficult decisions, including delaying appointments for routine and preventive care, and rescheduling nonemergent surgeries and procedures. These decisions have real long-term health consequences when people have to put off the care they need.

l Further reduce the number of people in our facilities, perhaps no longer allowing visitors.

Ultimately, we may not have enough hospital beds for all Iowans that need us, or enough staff to take care of everyone.

None of us want it to come to this, but the reality is, if Iowans don’t immediately modify behaviors to protect the health of our communities, hospitals may have no other options.

Last night, like every night, UI Hospitals & Clinics’ patients came from all around the state. The full scope of the problem requires consideration of much more than COVID-19 hospitalizations — our hospitals are also full with an unprecedented volume of non-COVID patients. Even more worrisome is that our hospitals are under this much stress even before we enter the busy cold, flu, respiratory illness season.

At University of Iowa Health Care, we are making decisions 24/7 on how to safely care for the increasing number of patients who need us — COVID or any other condition — while also taking care of our talented providers and staff who have been at this endlessly for months. But we can’t do it alone. We need your help.

Illness and deaths related to COVID are preventable

More than anything we want to keep our schools, businesses, hospitals, and society open. In order to best accomplish this, we need to make personal sacrifices and commit to following the guidelines that we know help stop the spread.

By avoiding indoor in-person gatherings, wearing a mask, staying six feet apart from those you don’t live with, and washing your hands frequently, you are making a difference. Not only for your own health, but for the health of others.

Each person makes a difference

Along with you, I wish that COVID would go away so we can get back to normal. It’s hard to imagine Thanksgiving without being surrounded by loved ones. It’s hard to decide to not attend a wedding or celebration because of the pandemic. It’s hard to not visit friends and family in long-term care.

Yet it is by making these sacrifices that we can protect our hospitals and health care workers, so we can be here when you need us the most.

We can do this. We must do this. But we must stand together. Our Iowa hospitals are here for you, and we are thankful we can rely on you to be here for us … by doing your part to stop the spread.

For more information about COVID and understanding the risk of common activities, visit uihc.org/covid-toolkit

Suresh Gunasekaran, MBA

Chief Executive Officer, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

Associate Vice President, University of Iowa Health Care

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