Note: The following open letter has the support of more than 700 physicians and advanced practice providers affiliated with St. Luke’s; it does not represent the position of all providers.
I’ve been a practicing pulmonary and critical care physician here in Idaho for 21 years. Every year, I see dozens of very ill people.
My clinical colleagues have seen any number of tragic cases and seasonal flu epidemics and provided bedside care during the last pandemic with the H1N1 flu.
We have never seen anything like what we saw play out several weeks ago in the Twin Falls ICUs, as the COVID-19 pandemic came to Idaho, beginning in the Wood River Valley.
Over a period of days, we saw critically ill patients transported to Twin Falls. We saw our ICU capacity in that facility steadily erode. We saw patients diverted to other parts of the health system, we saw care teams struggle to support the number of critically ill patients requiring ventilator support and we saw one intensive care unit become a respiratory unit over a period of about five days.
We saw critically ill people who had to be separated from their families. We saw patients who had to say their final goodbyes via FaceTime.
And we saw our frontline clinicians carry this burden and move on to the next patient and family who needed them.
We’re all caregivers; we don’t give up easily.
But we’re not alone, and we understand the pressure that others also are facing. Our elected leaders, for example, have chosen to protect the public’s health under extreme pressure to ease up on safe and practical guidance meant to keep all of our friends and family members alive and healthy.
Here are the incontrovertible facts, so far as we know, at this time regarding COVID-19:
We saw what it can be like. Our story does not need to look like New York’s. But it requires that we respond together, based on evidence.
Your neighbors, who are physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, therapists and other clinicians, are doing their best to fight a threat we all have in common. We stand in support of the governor, of county commissioners, of the mayors of our cities, of university, college and school administrators, of all first responders, of business owners, of every leader, at every level, who is doing the right thing on behalf of all of us.
One of the very best things about living in our part of the country is the scrappy, rugged individualism that has characterized us as a people. It has helped to shape world-class companies. It has powered best-in-class education and health care. It has given rise to a warm and welcoming community.
We’re calling on that spirit of community now. As your doctors, nurses and neighbors, we invite you to join us in supporting our governor, policymakers, business leaders, mayors, heads of our school districts and institutions of higher learning in making extremely difficult choices on behalf of all us. It is hard enough in the best of times to be a true leader; it has never been more difficult than it is right now.
Dr. Jim Souza is chief physician executive for St. Luke’s Health System, based in Boise, Idaho. He earned his undergraduate degree in cell biology from the University of Montana and medical degree from the University of Washington School of Medicine. He served his residency in internal medicine at the University of Washington and the Boise VA Medical Center and did a pulmonary and critical care fellowship through the University of Washington and the Boise VA Medical Center. He is board-certified in pulmonary disease and critical care medicine. In addition to his administrative duties, he continues to practice pulmonary and critical care medicine.