Prepare for a New Wave of Hospital Patients in a Post-COVID-19 World
Kathleen Silard, President & CEO, Stamford Health
This article was originally published in the spring 2021 issue of Stamford Plus magazine.
It is staggering and tragic that over 530,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 infections in the last year. As I reflect back on a year of COVID-19, Stamford Health has some staggering numbers too, like 183,060 – the number of COVID-19 tests we’ve run and 1,294 - the number of COVID-19 patients we’ve cared for at our hospital. There are hopeful numbers as well – 47,874, which is the number of vaccines we have administered as of March 16. In thinking about the health of our organization, I certainly do feel a profound sense of hope that we are nearing the end of the pandemic, and we are anxious to get ‘back to business.’
But another statistic instills a sense of foreboding in physicians and hospital administrators these days: according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), four out of ten adults have deferred care due to COVID-19. This trend is even more pronounced among vulnerable groups - people with underlying medical conditions, individuals with disabilities, those that face significant health disparities, and people on Medicaid.
Most critically, we have seen a drop in important diagnoses, which cuts across many areas. At Stamford Health we’ve seen the same decline in Emergency Department (ED) visits, for example, that have been cited by hospitals across the country. We know that patients presenting to our ED quite often are experiencing very serious and emergent issues like heart attacks, strokes and even appendicitis. There is one area; however, where the statistics are particularly troubling, and that is in cancer. Weekly diagnoses across the country for six cancers -- breast, colorectal, lung, pancreatic, gastric, and esophageal -- dropped 46 percent during the COVID-19 period.
It is clear that a large number of cancers has gone undetected. When those people appear for treatment, they generally will be sicker and harder to treat than if they had been diagnosed earlier. Looking forward, this trend is extremely concerning. Experts estimate that a large wave of very sick patients will be coming into hospitals for treatment in the near future. Beyond the human tragedy, this wave of patients will put additional pressure on hospitals and other health care providers, some of whom unlike Stamford Health are financially weak, and nearly all of whom will be focused on recovering from the pandemic’s first and second waves.
Stamford Health is thankfully well poised to care for these patients – particularly the cohort of individuals who will undoubtedly present with advanced cancer diagnoses. Our strength has recently been bolstered by a deepening of our relationship with Dana-Farber/Brigham & Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) one of the nation’s “Best Hospitals for Cancer” according to U.S. News & World Report.
Long before COVID-19, we knew providing best in class cancer care to patients at Stamford Health’s Bennett Cancer Center was one of the most important steps we could take to fulfilling our vision as our communities most trusted healthcare partner. And beyond that, the Bennett Cancer Center and our talented team of physicians, nurses and other caregivers have long been recognized in our region for expert, compassionate care.
Now, Stamford Health’s physicians follow care protocols, treatment plans, and best practices developed by DF/BWCC colleagues located in Boston. For example, our physicians now have access to resources, such as presentation of cases at collaborative tumor boards, chart reviews and virtual physician-to-physician consults with DF/BWCC specialists located in Boston. Stamford Health’s cancer patients will benefit from facilitated second opinion services and streamlined access to DF/BWCC in Boston for diagnosing and treating cancer. Finally, Stamford Health’s cancer patients will have increased access to, and participation in, DF/BWCC clinical trials.
What that all means simply put is that our cancer patients, many of whom may be in later, more dangerous stages of cancer due to impacts of COVID-19, will be receiving the best possible treatment as we all combat this second ‘pandemic’ of delayed care.
Our organizational partnership strategy, like this unique relationship with DF/BWCC, helps us offer our patients the best care in the nation close to home. It also represents our commitment to the communities we serve as well as the patients we expect and hope to see in the brighter days ahead.
Kathleen Silard is President and Chief Executive Officer of Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Ct.