Two years after Lee County experienced its first case of COVID-19, local health officials reflected on the pandemic at a news conference Tuesday.
Dr. Larry Antonucci, President and CEO of Lee Health, and Paul Hiltz, President and CEO of NCH Healthcare System, were joined by colleagues from Gulf Coast Medical Center to address some of the challenges and tribulations of unprecedented events in the last 24 months.
“It’s hard to believe that two years ago, on March 4, right here in this emergency department, we had our first patient with COVID,” Antonucci said. “We had no idea what the next two years would bring. During these early stages, we were filled with fear (and) uncertainty. We didn’t know how to deal with the virus – we weren’t sure what effect it would have on our staff – and yet their resilience, their dedication, their commitment were unwavering.
Antonucci said that since March 4, 2020, Lee Health has treated nearly 28,000 COVID-19 patients. During the 734-day period, Lee Health used millions of pieces of personal protective equipment, 2 million gowns, 2.5 million gloves and 240,000 surgical masks (22,000 homemade and donated to staff).
While more than 26,000 people have recovered from COVID-19, and although on Tuesday Lee Health reported 1,416 deaths from the virus.
“These are members of our community who lost their lives and lost the battle, and I want to take a moment of silence and acknowledge them, as we remember each one of them,” Antonucci said Tuesday.
He said that while the virus has done its best to lower morale and alter the daily lives of millions of people, the resilience shown by Lee Health employees is special and inspiring to see.
“We have come together and continue to show dedication every day as we continue to treat patients with COVID,” Antonucci said. “They are all heroes, and I will never be able to thank them for what they have done, and I know the community feels the same.”
Antonucci also thanked community leaders and the public for their support over the past two years.
Dr. Shyam Kapadia, pulmonologist and critical care specialist at Lee Health, shared what it was like to be on the front lines of the pandemic in an area where, at one time, transmission rates were high and capacity levels pushed to the brink.
“I remember like it was yesterday caring for my first COVID-19 patient,” said Kapadia. “She was a woman, she was in her 40s – she was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a brave member of this community. She was somebody’s somebody, she was somebody’s everything. one, and they were counting on me, on us, to make her better and bring her home. I’d be lying if I said I’m not scared. We were all scared. We were scared for ourselves, some for others, for her, for our families.
Kapadia said unlike in the past, he couldn’t just go home and read the task at hand, as the COVID-19 manual was written in real time.
“Then the assault began,” he said. “As healthcare workers, we have felt the barrage of patient after patient, bringing us to the brink of peak stress, anxiety, depression – making us process all of these moments and emotions within minutes of each other. as we moved from room to room, putting patients on life support and watching others die before our eyes. Wave after insurmountable wave.
As varying degrees of COVID-19 disease made their way through the community, Kapadia said he and his colleagues had only seen the worst.
“(We have only seen the side of COVID) that has taken away members of our community, our children, our moms, our dads, our grandparents and our families,” he said. “It was our job to bring them home, and we took that responsibility wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, there were times when we failed, and we didn’t bring them home to you. But in those times we made sure they felt loved by holding their hand, playing their favorite music, comforting them and FaceTiming you when they passed away before our eyes. returned home, I am personally sorry for your loss.
“As healthcare workers, we promise to continue to watch over our community for the remainder of this pandemic and the illnesses to come.”
— Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj