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Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

December 22, 2020
by Matt Kristoffersen

There’s a lot that goes into dealing with a pandemic that everyday patients may not be aware of.

Doctors need to be redirected to meet urgent needs. Clinics occasionally have to be closed. And personal protective equipment must be doled out in an orderly manner — a tough thing to do with often-limited resources.

Just ask Prathibha Varkey, professor at the Yale School of Medicine and president and CEO of Northeast Medical Group President.

Varkey, who is also the senior vice president of the Yale New Haven Health System, has been a key leader in fighting the coronavirus pandemic across Connecticut and the surrounding area. And to a Zoom audience of Yale School of Public Health students and faculty members on last week (December 16), she said town halls and rapid communication lines were essential to success.

Communication, she said, was one of the “biggest lessons learned during the pandemic.”

Southwestern Connecticut was the site of one of the first major coronavirus outbreaks in the United States. In an effort to keep the virus under control, Varkey said decisions had to be made at record speed — from closing less-needed clinics to transferring specialists to where they were more needed. Daily huddles, both in the morning and the afternoon, helped streamline information flow “in a really studied, careful but also a very rapid and cohesive way.”’

“The usual story in the physician realm is that it takes 17 to 20 years for things to translate to practice. That was very different in the pandemic era, because we were essentially transferring information almost on a daily basis,” Varkey explained.

Information had to go to the local community, too. Thanks to town halls across the state, Varkey said her team has been able to bring patients up to speed about health care in an effective manner.

Varkey’s hour-long Zoom discussion — a Dean’s Lecture — was co-sponsored by the Health Policy & Management Department. Her talk was followed by a question-and-answer session that touched on vaccine adoption, COVID-19 race disparities and the future of the pandemic.

She also talked about morale among health workers now that the pandemic has stretched for more than eight months.

“Of course, the vaccine is the light of the end of the tunnel or the beginning of a new hope, but there’s a lot of fatigue, a lot of disappointment, that this is becoming so long and drawn-out,” said Varkey, MBBS, MPH, MHPE, MBA. “We’re trying as much as possible to help our colleagues and healthcare workers stay engaged and help them in managing some of the grief.”

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on December 22, 2020