Back in the spring of 2017, as the Healthcare News and its sister publication, BusinessWest, were preparing to launch a new recognition program focused on the region’s large and critically important healthcare sector, the magazines hosted a meeting with members named to an advisory board assembled to help guide the initiative off the drawing board.
The first question asked at that session concerned the name given to the program — Healthcare Heroes. “How do you define ‘hero?’” one panel member asked.
The reply was that the magazines wouldn’t be defining ‘hero.’ That task would fall to those nominating individuals, groups, and institutions, and the judges assigned the task of evaluating those nominations. In short, the answer to that question was ‘heroism is in the eye of the beholder — and there are heroes all across the broad healthcare sector in this region.’
Never has that sentiment been truer than during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Indeed, for this year’s program, the magazines opted not to use the traditional categories that have defined this program, such as ‘Caregiver,’ ‘Emerging Leader,’ ‘Innovation in Healthcare,’ and even ‘Lifetime Achievement,’ and instead seek general nominations involving those who in some way stepped up and stood out during this pandemic, on the theory that heroes came in all kinds of categories this year.
And we were right. Nominations were submitted for both individual EMTs and the CEOs of medical centers; for manufacturing companies that shifted their production lines to make PPE and individual home healthcare providers; for entire staffs at local hospitals and specific teams at area service providers.
Everyone nominated this year is a true hero, and the judges had a very difficult time deciding which stories were truly the best. But as the accounts that begin on page A5 reveal, these judges did a commendable job.
These stories are, in a word, inspirational, and they clearly convey both the depth of the crisis and the determined, imaginative responses to it. These stories are touching, but they are also powerful in that they reveal the kind of dedicated, creative, and, above all, compassionate individuals working within the healthcare sector in this region.
The stories are all different, but the common theme is individuals, groups, and organizations seeing needs in the midst of this generational crisis, and rising to meet them, such as:
• The staff at Holyoke Medical Center coming together under very trying circumstances to take in residents of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home at the height of the tragedy there;
• Three patient advocates at Berkshire Health Systems leaving their behind-the-scenes jobs to become frontline nurses at a BHCS facility on the other side of the state;
• Home health aide Jennifer Graham, a junior at Bay Path University, volunteering, when few others would, to work at emergency tents set up to care for the region’s homeless population;
• Baystate Health President and CEO Mark Keroack providing needed leadership to not only his institution, but the region and state as the pandemic reached this region last spring;
• The Nutrition Department at Greater Springfield Senior Services Inc., which creating new programs and protocols to ensure that hot meals were delivered to the area seniors who need them; and
• Rabbi Devorah Jacobson, director of Spiritual Life at JGS Lifecare, who stepped into the breach and provided needed guidance and support to residents, family members, and especially the staff members providing services at the height of the crisis.
These are just some of the stories in our special section introducing the Healthcare Heroes of 2020 that will resonate, possibly generate tears, and certainly leave you proud of this region and those individuals and institutions serving it.
Protect Yourself from the Flu
By Dr. Armando Paez
While experts cannot predict the severity of one flu season from another, this upcoming season will be unprecedented and can pose a severe threat due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The very protection advice we have been stressing for COVID-19 — wearing a mask, frequent hand washing, social distancing — is what is going to protect many people from the flu this year. But the best protection of all is to get your flu shot each year.
Flu season usually begins in the fall around October, but doesn’t peak until December through February. It can sometimes last until May. Because there could be a possible second wave of COVID-19 coinciding with the flu, getting your flu shot this year is more important than ever before.
Already in advance of the onset of the 2020-21 flu season, the CDC is reminding people to get vaccinated sooner than later, with October being a good time to get vaccinated. It’s important to realize it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to build up antibodies to protect you from the flu.
Once again, the CDC recommends all people be vaccinated against the flu, especially pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions. For the 2020-21 season, the flu vaccines were updated to better match viruses expected to be circulating in the U.S. The CDC has stated that providers may administer any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine with no preference for any one vaccine over another, including the shot or nasal spray.
People who should not get the flu vaccine include children younger than 6 months and those with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine and any of its ingredients.
In addition to the elderly, vaccination is particularly important for younger children who are also at high risk for serious flu complications, as well as those with heart disease, and pregnant women. The most important complication that can affect both high-risk adults and children is pneumonia. The flu can also aggravate and worsen chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.
Also, if you have a weakened immune system after contracting COVID-19, it can leave you at risk for getting a more severe case of the flu, or vice versa.
I’m always asked by those skeptical about getting vaccinated, “can the flu shot give you the flu?” The answer is no. This year, I’m also being asked, “can the flu shot protect you from COVID-19?” Unfortunately, the answer is also no, but we’re hopeful for a vaccine against COVID-19 early next year or sooner.
While the flu vaccine is not 100% effective, the CDC noted that recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.
Remember, it’s never too late to get your flu shot, preferably before flu viruses begin spreading in the community around the end of October. v
Dr. Armando Paez is chief of Infectious Diseases at Baystate Medical Center.