Northern California health care steps up with treatments, telehealth as coronavirus surges in 2020
When the coronavirus landed early this year on U.S. shores, the North Bay made some notable news.
In February, NorthBay VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville became the first hospital in the country to have admitted a patient with respiratory symptoms that later was confirmed to have been the first COVID-19 case of unknown origin, now commonly understood to be community spread.
COVID-19 would go on to stress health care systems and their leaders like never before, as they focused on securing enough personal protective equipment and ventilators while clinicians worked around-the-clock to save patients from a foreign virus.
With no known treatment on the horizon, health care workers increasingly grew exhausted and anxious as their lives also were in peril, succinctly expressed in April by a local health care executive.
“This is the biggest thing we've dealt with probably in our lifetime, and we don't really have a frame of reference or life experience,” said Terri Dente, regional chief mission integration officer for the Northern California region of St. Joseph Health, which in the North Bay include Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Petaluma Valley Hospital, and Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa. “We're living in unprecedented times.”
Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, said 2020 “will be marked by nothing other than the pandemic.
“My hope is that it can also be marked by recognizing the heroism of the doctors and nurses and others who have been caring for Californians without a single day’s break over the last 10 months,” she said on Dec. 16.
In June, an antiviral medication called remdesivir emerged as a potential treatment for COVID-19, according to the National Institutes of Health. At the time, NIH stated researchers’ early results indicated remdesivir sped-up recovery by about four days for hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19, and may help with survival.
A North Bay area physician had a hand in the research.
Sutter Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Gary Green served as principal investigator for two randomized control trials of intravenously administered remdesivir for COVID-19 patients at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital.
Meanwhile, telehealth — defined as health care provided remotely through phones, video or other communication technologies — came to the forefront as a viable first line of care for treating patients without risking anyone’s health or safety.
“Not only does it help stop the spread of the virus by reducing in-person appointments, it allows physicians to treat patients with chronic conditions who typically have a hard time traveling for an office visit,” Griffin Rogers, director of both the Napa County Medical Society and Solano County Medical Society, told the Business Journal in September.
Telehealth also helps keep costs down, which became critical when a second surge in the fall pushed ICU-bed capacity statewide to beneath a 15% benchmark established for the regional stay-at-home order announced Dec. 3 by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Coyle is looking forward to widespread vaccinations becoming available in 2021, signaling the beginning of the end of the pandemic. But, she noted, there remains much to learn about the long-term effects of COVID-19.
“The health of Californians is forever changed, and I think the health care system is forever changed,” Coyle said. “Previously, as a state, we assumed that the worst-case disaster scenario was an earthquake in a populous area. We now have to think about and plan for viral disease spread as what may be a worst-case health care scenario.”