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We Must Care for Our Hospital Caregivers

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This month, state officials and President Trump announced historic public health and disaster declarations for Texas—a strong response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the globe. As the disease continues to spread, hospitals across our great state are working furiously to respond to and tamp out the virus. But critical shortages of personal protective equipment and medical supplies threaten Texas hospitals’ response as well as the health and safety of those who matter most—our frontline staff. More than ever, all Texans and all industries need to work together to protect one another and those who protect us. The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for the March 26, 2020 Austin American-Statesman that reminds us of the importance of a shared mission and purpose.

In Texas, neighbors help neighbors, and in times of crisis strangers quickly become friends. We have a reputation for putting others first, protecting our loved ones and lending a hand, and this behavior is often a light during dark times. During Hurricane Harvey, brave Texans used paddles and fishing boats to rescue those in need – people they had never met.

Today’s brave Texans wear scrubs and are working day and night to protect those who have become infected with a disease that has swept across the globe and is in our backyards.

Texas hospitals’ nearly 400,000 healthcare workers are on the frontlines of COVID-19. They are putting aside their own security and comfort during this outbreak to care for hospitalized Texans. But hospital administrators and staff are increasingly concerned as supplies dwindle and case counts surge across the country.

We can’t underestimate the physical and emotional toll this work takes. Compassion and caregiving are hallmarks of all hospital employees’ work, and we all must care for the caregivers. The hospital industry and Texas leaders are moving as quickly as possible to make sweeping, thoughtful changes to increase the availability of protective gear and to fight for policies that protect our most precious resources – our healthcare workers.

Massive shifts took place over the weekend to pave the way for better environments for our frontline workers. In the last couple of days, we’ve had widespread suspension of non-urgent surgeries to free up personal protective equipment. We have had stronger statewide directives for people to stay home. The state is conducting surge capacity planning so hospitals can more quickly discharge patients who don’t need to be there. We are seeing the approval of better and faster testing capabilities. And there is a massive push at the federal level for unprecedented amounts of funding and calls for other industries to rapidly ramp up manufacturing of health care supplies.

I’ve spent years working inside the walls of hospitals, and I know that hospital workers are our heroes. And that’s why we are all pushing hard to get them what they need. Organized donations and policies to reuse and conserve masks were a step in the right direction, but we need a massive fix. Masks, gowns and gloves keep hospital workers safe, and right now there aren’t enough to protect those workers.

Hospitals are working with state leaders to better protect our patients, the public and healthcare workers to ensure we have the infrastructure in place as COVID-19 cases surge. In fact, hospitals have been a voice for support from the start. We quickly asked for and received flexibilities from the government to expand our ability to care for people by phone, keeping patient and healthcare workers safer from the spread of disease. We moved quickly to tighten visitor policies to help protect staff. We have been urgently pushing for federal funding and for increases in domestic production of medical supplies and equipment to help us fight this disease.

We continue to implore the public to stay home as our hospitals ramp up additional capacity and set up frameworks to protect their staffs on the frontlines.

Hospitals are always ready for emergencies, but COVID-19 is taxing the system. As a state, we have to band together to be on the side of Texas hospitals, their staffs and our neighbors. This is where you can help. Aggressively follow the rules to protect yourself and our healthcare workforce. Help protect those who are protecting you, and thank healthcare workers for their dedication during this national emergency.

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