When you’re coping with a major challenge, do you ever wish someone
understood just what you’re going through? Anyone who doubts the
gravity of the pandemic should speak to Valory Peeples, MBA, RRT, Director of
Cardiopulmonary Services at Southeast Georgia Health System. “I would ask them to follow
one of my respiratory therapists for the day as they care for 12 patients
on ventilators in the Critical Care Unit, then run over to the St. Simon’s
Tower to give breathing treatments to 15 patients, then get called to
the Emergency Care Center when a patient codes and needs to be intubated.
As respiratory therapists, we see the fear and anxiety in people’s
faces when they can’t breathe,” Peeples says.
The pandemic has highlighted the heroism of respiratory therapists in
caring for patients infected with COVID-19. This time-consuming task is
done while also caring for patients with asthma, COPD, and other respiratory ailments.
The Disease is Prepared
Peeples says the current COVID-19 surge is hitting the Health System harder
than when the pandemic first broke out. There are new treatments and vaccines
now, but she says, “The disease is prepared. It struck respiratory
harder this time. Last year, we had 29 patients on vents, compared to
62 now. My staff wasn’t prepared for that, or to see so many deaths.
I came into work one day and my team had eight codes; six of those patients
passed away in one night.”
And yet, they carry on, fighting the good fight.
Perhaps because the Delta variant tends to make people sicker, patients
now require more time on ventilators – usually about three to four
weeks. Stocking enough equipment and retaining enough therapists is difficult.
“We only keep enough vents on hand for an average patient census.
We own 22; we have to rent the rest, along with supplies like IV poles.
COVID has taken things to a whole new level.”
Nationwide, hospitals are struggling with staffing shortages. Nurses and
respiratory therapists are in high demand; some are wooed away by financial
incentives. Some travel nurses earn as much as $30,000 to $40,000 per
month, depending on the location. The Health System has provided bonuses
to frontline health care providers and hired agency nurses and therapists
to support frontline workers. However, that is not financially sustainable
over the long run.
Advocates at the Top
As grueling as this pandemic has been, Peeples feels supported. “I’ve
been in health care since I was 17. I’m 55 now. I’ve worked
in many hospitals and I’ve never seen one that takes such good care
of their employees. Mr. Scherneck, our CEO, and our board, are exceptional
advocates for our employees.”
To forge a path forward, Peeples believes the Health System and the community
must stay vigilant. “As a community, we let our guard down and as
a result COVID-19 came right back.” She urges the public to educate
themselves about the virus from reliable sources such as cdc.gov versus
social media or the general internet.
Week in and week out, the respiratory team fights the virus. Depending
on caseload, those work weeks can stretch to six or seven days. The tragic
part of this public health crisis is that the worst of it could have been
avoided. “Most of the deaths we see from COVID are preventable.
There are behavioral changes we have to make. We don’t have to agree
with each other, but we do have to respect one another. If you love each
other, do the right thing,” Peeples says.
The Health System offers free COVID-19 vaccinations at the following locations:
• Brunswick Campus: Tuesdays, 8 a.m.-3 p.m.; Thursdays, 4-6 p.m.
• Camden Campus: Mondays, 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
Appointments are strongly encouraged; walk-ins are allowed based on vaccine
availability. To schedule an appointment, visit
sghs.org/covid19-vaccine. The vaccine is also available at Georgia Department of Public Health
vaccination clinic locations. To find a clinic, go to gachd.org/vaccine
or call 912-230-5506.