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Dr. Paul Mueller: A year into pandemic, Mayo stronger, more agile

From the COLLECTION: Progress 2021: Primed for a rebound series
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I vividly recall discussions of the looming COVID-19 pandemic with Mayo Clinic Health System leaders last March. Though there were many unknowns, our only choice was to move forward guided by our values. As a result, we quickly learned about the virus, how to slow its spread, and how to care for infected patients.

When much of our face-to-face clinical practice was shuttered during the early weeks of the pandemic in order to conserve personal protective equipment, our providers quickly adopted virtual care (e.g., video) options. (Life-saving care provided in our emergency department, operating rooms, cancer center, and elsewhere continued safely and uninterrupted.)

Pre-pandemic, we set a goal of substantially increasing virtual care visits by 2030. The pandemic accelerated this transition. Today, we have a large virtual care practice that provides convenient care to patients regardless of where they live or work. Progress, a year into the pandemic, looks like new options for patients care, much sooner than anticipated.

Reopening the practice required our staff to be diligent in protecting themselves and patients from the virus. Thanks to their efforts, we are not aware of a single instance in which a staff member acquired COVID-19 from a patient in our care, or vice versa. Progress looks like the ability to deliver care safely, even as infections surged in the community.

Our confidence grew as we quickly established a drive-thru site to handle the high volume of testing necessary to contain the virus and expedite care for high-risk patients. Indeed, quick diagnosis and early intervention proved critical to achieving good outcomes. Novel treatments, like monoclonal antibody infusions, helped patients avoid hospitalizations.

Recognizing their value, we quickly grew our capacity to become a leading administrator of these treatments. Progress looks like vast improvements in our ability to diagnose and treat COVID-19 disease.

There were tough times. Staff worked long shifts for days at a time, made worse by the protective equipment that left their faces and ears sore from continuous use. Their hearts were heavy from being at the bedsides of seriously ill patients, some of whom succumbed to the virus.

However, these difficult days were made more bearable by the many expressions of concern and acts of kindness from our community, for which we remain grateful. Progress looks like a community that pulls together in a time of crisis.

The first dose of vaccine in La Crosse County was administered to one of our front-line staff members in December. A great day! At the same time, plans were underway for a vaccine center on our La Crosse campus that could deliver 750 doses per day. We accomplished that goal.

And those receiving the vaccine are joyous. We are pleased to have administered more than 25,000 (and counting) doses of vaccine. Progress looks like more community members being vaccinated against COVID-19 every day.

The steep learning curve of the pandemic forced us to work smarter, faster and more collaboratively. I am proud of how our physicians, nurses and staff worked together and overcame challenges presented by COVID-19—sometimes in a matter of days.

Pre-pandemic we were a solid organization poised for great things. Today, we are stronger, more agile, and even more committed to providing safe and high-quality care guided by our primary value, “The needs of the patient come first.”

And I am proud of our community members for doing their part in fighting the pandemic—masking, hand washing, social distancing and, ultimately, getting vaccinated. A year into the pandemic, signs of progress are abundant and all around us.

Dr. Paul Mueller is regional vice

president for Mayo Clinic Health System SW.


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