BBJ: Local health system execs face major challenges with vaccine distribution, employee burnout

By Morgan Eichensehr
December 8, 2020

The Johns Hopkins Health System is set to receive 975 vials of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine in an initial shipment. The challenge now is figuring out how to distribute those limited doses across the system’s six hospitals and 35,000 employees.

Kevin W. Sowers, president of Johns Hopkins Health System, said his system’s top officials have spent hours debating the best ways to distribute the coronavirus vaccines that have been so anxiously awaited by front line workers in the health care industry. In the meantime, Hopkins is readying its facilities to properly store and distribute vaccines, and employing the use of a new digital categorization tool which will organize the system’s workers based on their level of need in receiving the vaccination, he said.

Sowers was joined by MedStar Health CEO Kenneth A. Samet and University of Maryland Medical System CEO Dr. Mohan Suntha in a health care-focused discussion hosted by the Greater Baltimore Committee Dec. 8.

Suntha said as leaders think about strategies for vaccine distribution beyond the walls of front line health care institutions, it is important that they ensure the most vulnerable and most affected communities, such as poor communities and communities of color, are not left behind. Covid-19 has highlighted major health disparities across racial and socioeconomic lines that have long existed in the U.S. — for example, public health data has widely shown Black, Latinx and Native Americans are far more likely than their white counterparts to get sick, be hospitalized and die because of Covid. Health care institutions have a responsibility to address those disparities as strategies around vaccine distribution take shape, Suntha said.

“We should all consider it a failure if those who have the greatest risk end up the least vaccinated,” he said.

An important piece of effective vaccine distribution will be educating people about the various vaccines coming to market and the science behind them, he said. Health care experts have battled fears and misinformation about the pandemic as it has become politicized over the past year. Suntha said UMMS hopes to “be the voice of science” and to connect with trusted leaders, such as faith leaders and nonprofits that already have the trust of the communities they work in, to help disseminate accurate health information about the vaccines.

Samet added that local business leaders will also be “critical” partners in vaccine distribution. As local health systems are already encouraging their workers to get vaccinated, Samet said business leaders should be doing the same. He encouraged the members of the GBC who tuned into the Dec. 8 panel to take responsibility for educating their workforces about the importance of and science behind the vaccines.

Even before Covid-19 hit, health care was an industry that struggled with high rates of employee burnout, Sowers said. The challenges of the pandemic have hugely exacerbated the mental and physical fatigue felt by health workers, especially those on the frontlines of Covid care. Within Johns Hopkins, Sowers said there has been a 26% increase in mental health admissions among workers, and 1,400 people with no prior history of mental health concerns have had to go on antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.

Again, Samet and Suntha emphasized the part local citizens and businesses play in supporting the health care workers that have been relied on so heavily during this pandemic. Samet said it is important that people continue doing whatever they can to help stem the spread of the virus, and not take for granted the nurses and doctors who have been tirelessly battling Covid-19 from the start.

Suntha called on GBC’s business leaders to continue to model and encourage responsible pandemic behaviors among their employees. The individual choices made by citizens and businesses will continue to affect the rate of recovery in the health care industry and the economy at large, he said.

“Personal responsibility and personal behavior send a very clear message,” Suntha said. “Behaviors matter, decisions matter…As leaders, we all have an obligation to communicate personal responsibility to our workforce.”

To read the complete article, visit the Baltimore Business Journal website.

Source: Baltimore Business Journal

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