COVID-19 one year later: CHI Health doctors, staff discuss a year of pandemic care

File photo of healthcare workers at CHI Health-St. Elizabeth ICU.
File photo of healthcare workers at CHI Health-St. Elizabeth ICU.(KOLN)
Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 11:17 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - COVID-19 has dominated our lives in Omaha for a year now. In early March 2020, none of us were wearing masks regularly.

Not only did our daily lives change but front-line health workers were about to get an education in dealing with a pandemic, something that, up until then, had been reserved for lectures and history books.

Last February, Omaha started to get familiar with the coronavirus as Nebraska Medicine took in cruise ship patients and Americans who had been living in China. Experts knew it was only a matter of time before it struck the Heartland.

This weekend marks a milestone in the Omaha-metro. A year later, and it’s still not over.

Thursday afternoon, a panel of CHI Health doctors and staff CHI Health doctors and staff shared their experiences with treating COVID-19 this past year:

  • CHI Health CEO Dr. Cliff Robertson, led operations throughout the pandemic for 14 hospitals and more than 150 clinics.
  • Dr. Renuga Vivekanandan, chief of infectious diseases at CHI Health-Creighton University, helped shape COVID-19 care and contain the spread of the virus.
  • Dr. David Quimby, an infectious diseases physician at CHI Health-Creighton, also helped shape COVID-19 patient care and educate the community about the virus and the vaccine.
  • Dr. Douglas R. Moore, a CHI Health-Creighton pulmonologist and director of critical care at CUMC-Bergan Mercy, was among the first at CUMC-Bergan Mercy to care for the sickest COVID-19 patients. Moore also helped lead new care techniques, research, and resources for patients.
  • Alisha Dunlap, an RN and ICU nurse at CUMC-Bergan Mercy, was also among the first to care for the hospital’s sickest COVID-19 patients. She also helped administer the very first dose of remdesivir.
  • Julie Gernetzke, division vice president of operations and development at CHI Health Clinic, was instrumental in implementing a COVID-19 helpline for the community at the start of the pandemic. She also helped transition traditional clinic visits to virtual care and telehealth.

“It’s hard to believe this coming Saturday will be one year since the first case in Nebraska was documented,” Dr. Robertson said.

Dr. Moore said he thinks there’s still a lot to learn.

“I don’t think we can overestimate the impact of handwashing, mask-wearing, social distancing, and vaccines. All of those will continue to be important,” he said.

COVID-19 has dominated our lives in Omaha for a year now. In early March 2020, none of us were wearing masks regularly.

Doctors and nurses will tell you a year later, they feel a lot more comfortable. They know so much more about COVID-19, how to treat it with and without medicine, and aren’t scrambling to get personal protective equipment to keep themselves safe.

“It is my honor to care for the sickest of the sick and wouldn’t do anything else. I love what I do,” ICU nurse Dunlap said.

A year living with COVID-19 all around feels like a blur to many. Dr. Quimby put it this way: “Yeah! It has been a year. Thanks.”

Yes, it has — it’s been a year.

6 News asked one of the CHI Health doctors what they know now that they wished they had known at the beginning of the pandemic. The answer: a better grasp on when to be aggressive with a patient’s care with COVID-19 and when to back off and use other tools not available a year ago.

Digital Director Gina Dvorak contributed to this report.

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