Valley medical needs: Doctors, mental health services, access to care

Robert Inglis/The Daily Item Evangelical Community Hospital CEO Kendra Aucker talks about some of the positions open at the hospital that she would like to see filled.

One-hundred twenty-seven employees of Evangelical Community Hospital contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including the hospital’s top administrator.

Kendra Aucker, Evangelical’s president and chief executive officer, returned to work this week at the same time the hospital received its initial shipment of the country’s first vaccine against the disease and the virus that causes it.

“These vaccines are what give us hope,” Aucker said. “I encourage people to consider the vaccine. You could worry about the side effects or you could be fighting for your life.”

Aucker championed protocol throughout the pandemic and said she followed it herself: masking, social distancing, throughly washing hands. She isn’t certain how she contracted the virus, saying she’s “pretty locked down” at the office and at home.

Nonetheless, she woke up the day after Thanksgiving with body aches and chills, a low-grade fever and the “worst headache I probably ever had.” She was tested at Evangelical the next day, Nov. 28, and learned she was positive. So, too, was her spouse, Maggie.

Peppermint tea was among the comforts Aucker turned too while feeling ill. Three days after learning she was positive, she had to double-check the packaging on her tea to be certain it was peppermint. She couldn’t taste it.

“I went and sprayed some perfume and realized I could smell nothing,” Aucker said.

She couldn’t eat much, either, having lost her appetite. She felt fatigued but continued to work from home. A week into her illness, Aucker said her symptoms went from mild to moderate. Coughing grew persistent. Her chest tightened. She checked her temperature. It exceeded 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Following a telemedicine appointment with her doctor, who believed Aucker was developing pneumonia, she was prescribed steroids, antibiotics and an inhaler.

“I’ve had the flu several times. This was far worse. I’ve never felt this lousy before,” Aucker said.

It wasn’t until Dec. 10 that her fever broke, she said. More than two weeks passed before she felt recovered. Her spouse rebounded in just five days.

Aucker said she feels “normal” now, though she said fatigue still kicks in. She returned to work Monday and emailed the hospital’s 1,900-member workforce that morning to explain she was sickened by the virus and recovered.

“I share with you my story as I felt scared for what could have happened and grateful for what didn’t. I realized I’m blessed to have access to great doctors. I’m grateful that we have testing capabilities at the hospital. I’m grateful I fought through and didn’t need hospitalized,” Aucker wrote to employees.

Despite dealing with and learning about COVID-19 daily throughout the pandemic, Aucker said she was surprised how hard it hit and how badly it caused her to feel. She knows that’s an experience hospital employees are dealing with, too, after having cared for ill patients or contracting the disease themselves. She wanted them to know that she understood and that they weren’t alone.

The virus is surging among hospital employees as it has beyond the facility’s walls. There were 29 employees who tested positive for the disease from July through October. From Nov. 1 through Tuesday, 98 others tested positive.

The virus doesn’t discriminate, Aucker said, but people can recover.

“It took me longer to bounce back from this than anything I’ve ever had,” Aucker said. “For each person, it’s very different how they respond. You just have to be respectful of your body and what it takes to recover.”

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