When Jones Regional Medical Center CEO Eric Briesemeister looks back at 2020, it’s clear it’s been a learning experience. Reflecting on where things were in the spring, he sees how much the hospital has learned about COVID-19.

Early on, the stress came from the uncertainty, uncertainty of how to deal with the virus and whether they had the proper material to keep staff safe.

“Now, though, we know what we’re doing. We’ve got all of [personal protective equipment] figured out. We actually have PPE now, whereas before it was really, really tight,” Briesemeister said.

In the spring, the hospital planned for what they thought was the surge.

“We thought that was the surge, it really wasn’t, Briesemeister said. “This last surge was considerably larger than anything we saw in the spring.”

When the actual surge came toward the end of 2020, it made for an exhausting time.

“It’s been really stressful,” he said. “We saw the biggest volumes of patients since the pandemic began. Over 80% of the patients we had in house were COVID-positive. That was a challenge.”

Complicating the matter was the fact that in addition to the patients, the virus hit the staff as well putting all sorts of stresses on them.

“Where in the spring, we didn’t see a lot of stress on our staffing, we definitely saw it this time,” Briesemeister said. “That’s been the hardest thing…and then making sure that the staff are healthy and are taken care of and can get a chance to relax and take a break. That’s been a huge challenge, too, to try to maintain their mental and physical health.”

If a nurse had three or four patients and having to change out PPE each time they visited a room for an entire shift, that means gearing up 45 to 60 times a shift.

“It put a strain on them we just didn’t imagine,” he said, having thought they’d already made it through the “surge.”

As the hospital prepared for the holidays, the staff was back to normal. Having weathered what they thought would be a Thanksgiving surge, Briesemeister was hopeful that no post-Christmas surge was forthcoming.

With all the lessons of 2020 learned, the result for the future is that he believes hospitals will be more efficient. The pandemic has seen the hospital use technology a lot more, with virtual check-ins for visits and an increase in virtual services. With MyChart and getting patients used to their online profile, patients can easily track their medical info, like x-rays or lab results. Having information at their fingertips is helping patients better take control of their health, according to Briesemeister.

“That will hopefully only increase over time as we get people more used to accessing their health information in that manner,” he said.

With vaccinations starting right before the start of the new year, that’s obviously going to be a major focus for the hospital as the calendar turns to 2021.

“That’ll be the big thing. How do we get ourselves vaccinated? How do we get the community vaccinated?” Briesemeister said.

Everyone is looking forward to a return to normal, and that holds true for hospital personnel as well.

“We’ve been in this kind of emergency mode for nine, 10 months. It seems like a long time, and it has been. So, we need to get back to the point where we’re doing a lot of the other things we normally do, like loosening up visitor requirements,” Briesemeister said.

Before closing the book on a year that pushed health care workers harder than ever, Briesemester praised the heroic efforts of his staff and those across the country as they’ve worked to contain the pandemic.

“If you have any question in your mind whether there are good people in the world, go to your local health center and see those people do their jobs and coming to work every day in spite of the risk and helping take care of other people. It has just been amazing and humbling to be a part of it,” he said.

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