UW Health reflects on what’s changed since the pandemic began

Published: Jan. 26, 2021 at 4:44 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - UW Health saw the state’s first documented case of COVID-19, which was also the twelfth known case in the nation. Now, nearly a year later, the healthcare organization is reflecting on how much has changed since.

“We’ve been doing this now for almost a year and it almost feels like it’s kind of our usual existence at this point, for many of us,” said Dr. Peter Newcomer, UW Health Chief Clinical Officer.

It’s been a year of UW Health adapting during the pandemic.

“I think that changes that we made early, some of them weren’t perfect, we adjusted those over time,” said Dr. Newcomer.

Dr. Newcomer believes many of the changes made in response to COVID-19 will be positive in the long-run.

One of the bigger issues many hospitals faced, getting enough supply of PPE, prompted UW Health to put more focus on its supply chains.

“We’ve really developed a way to monitor that in a much better way, to work with our suppliers so we’re not just in time so much anymore, but we have the ability to know we’re going to have supply available for our team members,” said Dr. Newcomer.

Beyond incorporating more PPE and sanitation practices, hospitals and clinics themselves underwent changes - down to the airflow.

“Changing the way we handle the air in places like our operating rooms and ICU to keep people safer. And developing spaces that help people maintain distance from each other,” said Dr. Newcomer. “Some of those things we’ll keep with us really after this pandemic is gone.”

Dr. Newcomer sees virtual care as one of the better changes made, considering it was a program they wanted more widely used to begin with.

“Patients’ acceptance, families’ acceptance, insurance coverage, really you name it. It was hard to get that in alignment before and this last year we had an alignment,” said Dr. Newcomer. “We were really able to roll that out broadly, which has been great. Our patients really appreciate it and I think they will for forever really. I think it’s with us to stay.”

There’s also been renewed focus on mental health support for employees, strengthening and expanding some already existing programs at UW Health like peer support.

“I think that is one of the biggest things that’s going to come out of this crisis for UW Health, and I assume for most healthcare organizations, which is that really clear respect for how difficult it is to care for sick and sometimes dying patients and how to do that on a day by day basis and maintain your ability to come back the next day and have that happen again,” said Dr. Newcomer.

Another long term change he sees is UW Health no longer tackling problems alone. Throughout the pandemic Dr. Newcomer says they’ve built more open relationships with other healthcare organizations, the state, counties, and their communities.

“As we try to determine how to get vaccines out, how do we use monoclonal antibodies and do that in the most equitable way - we don’t have to answer all those questions alone. We can reach out through our liaisons and work with our communities to help answer those questions and get better answers than we have in the past,” said Dr. Newcomer. “That’s something we’re really going to lock in as well as we go forward is those communications with our communities.”

Dr. Newcomer isn’t entirely sure what the future in healthcare looks like, but he’s confident that it will not be the same.

“I know a lot of us are getting ready for getting back to normal, I just don’t know that normal is going to be the same as it was in 2019,” said Dr. Newcomer. “It’ll be a new normal and, in some ways, I think it’ll be better.”

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