COVID-19 two years later: Southeast Health Medical Center reflects

Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 1:00 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) -This week marks two years since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was detected in Alabama. For some, it feels like a lifetime. This pandemic brought many changes to healthcare facilities, while straining resources fighting surge after surge.

Southeast Health Medical Center is taking the time to reflect on the past two years, starting with the beginning.

“In the beginning everyone thought it was nothing, ‘This is a joke,’ ‘This isn’t true,’ that’s what you heard on the streets,” Rosa Brackin, Clinical Nurse Supervisor/CCU, said. “What little did they know, this wasn’t a joke. They weren’t at the bedside, they didn’t see how horrible it was.”

Brackin and her colleagues saw the horror firsthand.

“There was times we cried at the nurses station together, there was times we walked away,” Brackin said.

On March 13, 2020 Alabama healthcare workers were thrown a steep learning curve.

“We literally had a disease that no one had ever treated before,” Dr. Walt Doty, Critical Care Doctor and Intensivist at Southeast Health, said.

Dr. Doty said the virus quickly changed day-to-day tasks at the hospital.

“We have had to change all sorts of protocols, from treatment of patients to small things like how do we transport patients in the hallways, how do we deal with these patients when they get exceptionally ill, you know, when we put them on and off ventilators do we have to change the way we do things and those are going to stick with us for quite some time,” Dr. Doty said.

The facility immediately required staff and visitors to wear masks and undergo health screens. Dr. Doty said right now, those things will last indefinitely.

“We have got to see kind of where the pandemic takes us,” Dr. Doty said. “At this point we have had five surges and every time we are hoping and praying that this is the last one, but obviously four times here, we have been wrong.”

Dr. Doty said the biggest challenge was high patient volumes and exhausted staff. Since 2020, the hospital has discharged over 2,700 COVID patients. Just over 500 more died.

“The limiting thing was people and staff and critical care nurses and regular nurses and respiratory therapists, and that has really put a strain on the organization, not just ours, but everywhere,” Dr. Doty said.

All while navigating in the new and unknown, healthcare workers pushed through some of their darkest times caring for the sickest of the sick.

“There was lots of dying going on,” Brackin said. “It didn’t matter what we did. Everything we tried it didn’t matter. It wasn’t working. These people are really sick, and it just felt like you come into work and all you see was death. It was horrible.”

Visitor restrictions amplified the caring heart of front liners, who at times were a patients last warm hand to hold.

“It’s one of those moments where you do what’s got to be done and after the fact you break,” Brackin said. “You stay there, these families need you, the patients need you, the families calling you on the phone and you promised them you would be right at the bedside, and you stay there.”

As health care workers are hopeful, we are nearing the end of the pandemic, Dr. Doty said right now he believes everyone has to do their own risk assessment moving further. He said it is important to be mindful of your vaccine status and the health risk of your loved ones.

Brackin said when it comes to COVID, things are looking up.

“Patients aren’t nearly as sick as they were and now we’re seeing that light, and it’s almost all gone,” Brackin said.

Copyright 2022 WTVY. All rights reserved.

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