A year later: Health officials reflect on lessons learned amid pandemic

‘The Curve’ special report: Lessons learned from pandemic

ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - There’s not one person the pandemic hasn’t impacted in some way this past year.

Susan Hardy is a counselor at Phoebe’s behavioral health center. She leads group therapy sessions and says the pandemic pushed many people to their breaking points.

“We’ve had to double our services for what we provide. We also offer groups for children, and we’re adding a new teen group, as we speak,” she said.

They had to hire more staff during the pandemic. Isolation, loneliness and loss brought forth issues that may have been stirring under the surface.

“There are people who were able to cope and deal with their repressed anger, repressed hurt. But once the pandemic brought more stress into their lives. They were less able to cope,” Hardy said.

Susan Hardy is a counselor at Phoebe's Behavioral Health Center.
Susan Hardy is a counselor at Phoebe's Behavioral Health Center. (Source: WALB)

The CDC says young adults, minorities, essential workers and caregivers saw increased substance abuse and suicidal ideations last year.

Hardy said shame sometimes marks seeking mental healthcare. She hopes the pandemic will help eliminate the stigma “that people will give themselves permission to make that phone call to reach out and ask for help.

“There’s so much help available,” she said.

Hardy said she thinks in the future people will begin to prioritize mental health.

“I look forward to more people coming forward, asking for help, and realizing they’re not alone,” she added.

The pandemic changed her personally as well.

“It has increased my ability to just be there for people, my own compassion, my own empathy. You know personally Gabrielle, I had planned to retire. I reached that golden age where I could, and the need now is so great, and I see the services that we need to offer. I want to be available to be there and help people,” Hardy said.

She plans to continue helping people, even after the pandemic ends. She said retirement will have to wait.

Dr. James Black is Phoebe’s medical director for emergency medicine. He said the pandemic changed the hospital in many ways.

“We took stock of what we had. We said we have a six-month supply and PPE, and a six-month supply was depleted within three weeks,” he said.

Phoebe worked with suppliers to fill in those gaps. The shortage of personal protection equipment was one of many challenges they faced.

Black said they’ve learned to prepare for anything.

Dr. James Edward Black is Phoebe's medical director for emergency medicine.
Dr. James Edward Black is Phoebe's medical director for emergency medicine. (Source: WALB)

“I think there are a lot of things that we’ve learned and a lot of ways we intend to do a lot of things differently. We’ve learned a lot. And I think one of the things is preparation, preparation, preparation. Even though we thought we were prepared, we were quickly overwhelmed with the number of cases that we saw, so we’ve adjusted our plans,” Black said.

He said the hospital is already putting that thinking into action, adding more negative pressure, or isolation rooms.

“Those are going to be a standard part of the hospital, and as we begin to break ground and do additional building, those kinds of plans are being factored in. Now, you know, whereas we might have counted on one or two negative pressure rooms per floor per unit. All these rooms are going to be capable of it and so those are just a change in the mindset because, you know, it might not be coronavirus and that there will be something else that we want to potentially be ready for it again,” Black said.

“You know, my dad used to tell me, ‘making a mistake is not the not a problem, if we don’t learn from the mistake though, that’s where the failure comes.’ So, we’re taking the lessons that we learned, we’re documenting them, we’re incorporating them into, you know, short and long-range planning,” Black said.

The pandemic impacted hospital renovations, equipment availability and increased awareness of existing social and mental health issues.

Both Black and Hardy agree life after the pandemic will not be the same.

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