Lessons from the Pandemic

Posted by Beth Funkhouser
Dr. Brian Wolfe (E&H ’97) says our current situation has more to teach us than just how to live through a pandemic.

Dr. Brian Wolfe points out that sometimes we put kindness out into the world without ever really knowing its impact or seeing the results. “Right now, just staying home is the nicest thing we can do for each other.”

Brian is a physician at University of Colorado Hospital in Denver and he believes social distancing is working to reduce the spread of COVID-19. “Health care workers aren’t blind to the effects on our economy, but releasing us from social distancing right now is not the answer. It may seem a little silly, but there are so many people who don’t know they have it that if we’re not careful, more people will die.”

Brian says his hospital is like every other hospital in the country in that they have been working non-stop to put plans in place to deal with a barrage of sick patients – in particular, patients who will need to be in the ICU. “What so many of us are facing is a shortage of ICU beds. In order to meet that need, we have made a lot of changes we would never have done before – like moving new moms to other hospitals so we can use the ‘mom  and baby rooms’ for additional ICU space.  We’ve also put 2 beds in most ICU rooms even though that wasn’t the intention of the design. And we’re doing conversions on surgical ventilators to do the work of a long term critical care ventilator.”

The hospital has also put in place a layer of back-ups for physicians so they don’t run the risk of all their doctors being sick at once. Right now Brian’s job is to stay away from the hospital and stay well so he can be ready to jump in if numbers get worse. (Several of their doctors have tested positive, but so far no one is gravely ill.)

Brian says our entire country is learning many things about health care, including the fact that our ICU facilities are really not equipped for this sort of event.  “If we hadn’t made the adjustments we’ve made, we would be completely overrun right now.” He also spoke about the need to improve overall attention to basic healthcare issues for people before a crisis like this hits: most of the COVID-19 patients he has seen hospitalized have been from underserved communities with poor access to regular healthcare. “COVID-19 is the great equalizer – when you get it, you get really sick really fast. If you have pre-existing problems recovery will be more difficult.”

Brian has been especially heartened by the way all his colleagues have stepped up to be of assistance during this complicated, and sometimes frightening, situation. Part of his job is to oversee a group of nurse practitioner and physician assistant fellows who are learning how to work in a hospital. “This group of 6 started in March – so it has not been business as usual. But every one of them has offered to treat COVID-19 patients. And the physicians we work with who don’t have to work inside the hospital have all volunteered to take on supervision duties to free me and my inpatient colleagues up to see sicker COVID-19 patients. I get emotional when I think of how open everyone has been to stepping into new roles – and just being brave at this moment in time.”

  • Dr. Brian Wolfe, E&H Class of 1997
“Right now, just staying home is the nicest thing we can do for each other.”
Dr. Brian Wolfe
E&H Class of 1997

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