A sign hung on a retaining wall at Geisinger’s main access road in Danville reads: “Heroes Work Here.”
Dr. Bradley Brocious, an emergency medicine physician, said similar signs are hung along a walkway to the Emergency Department. The words of encouragement during the coronavirus pandemic aren’t ignored by medical providers, Brocious said.
“It’s making me feel very encouraged how the community has rallied,” Brocious said of the well-wishes and gifts like free lunch sent by individuals and businesses to frontline medical workers. “I know personally for myself and my colleagues it’s been very invigorating.”
Central Pennsylvania fared well, so far, in the pandemic compared to more densely populated parts of the state. Brocious feared the health system could be overrun by virus cases when the pandemic first began to take hold in the U.S.
Hospitals in greater Philadelphia and New York City were inundated. He worried protections to prevent the spread from patient to patient would falter. He feared exposure could result in him spreading the virus to his wife and two young children at home in Lewisburg, especially considering its potential spread by the asymptomatic.
“I’m more comfortable now,” Brocious said.
He cited rules for masking and screening patients and visitors at Geisinger facilities and said the hospital has sufficient personal protective equipment for workers directly caring for COVID-19 patients.
“The potential of carrying the virus home with me has lessened,” Brocious said.
That doesn’t mean he’s less cautious.
He continues to change out of work scrubs and attire inside his garage and rushes straight to a bathroom for a hot shower. He used to pick up his girls in his arms and greet his wife when he entered his house after a shift at the hospital.
“That’s gone for now,” Brocious said.
The biggest change at work has been the expanded use of personal protective equipment, PPE, like isolation gowns and face shields, Brocious said. Another change: more stress and more collaboration with outside medical workers.
“There’s a lot more anxiety just with the nursing staff and providers. Also, there’s been a lot more collaboration,” Brocious said, explaining how emergency room staff and ambulance personnel, for example, seem to be in better communication than before.
“When they go into a house, they’re the first ones touching these patients. If we have COVID concerns or shortness of breath, they’re very attuned to that and alerting us ahead of time,” Brocious said.
The experience reinforced Brocious’ recognition of how emergency medical providers are thrust to the frontline during national emergencies. He said one blessing in disguise has been spending more off-time at home with family because of social distancing guidelines.
The overall volume of patients seen at Geisinger’s emergency rooms in Danville and the Shamokin area dropped, according to Brocious. He attributed it to people staying home. He estimated about 1 in 5 emergency visits, perhaps 1 in 4, are related to complaints of COVID-19 symptoms.
About 14 percent of people tested at Geisinger for the disease have returned positive results, according to Geisinger’s CEO, Jaewon Ryu.
"The curve has flattened," Ryu said at a recent news briefing. "Distancing measures have worked and are working. But things can change very quickly, so we can't let up."
Ryu’s remarks came as the Valley moved from red to yellow on Pennsylvania’s three-phase color-coded matrix for reopening from government shutdown orders. Now, Montour and Snyder counties are nearing green status and barring a spike in COVID cases, Northumberland and Union counties figure to follow.
Brocious said a measured approach is the best approach. He said it was good to see businesses and communities reopen under lighter restrictions, however, the doctor stressed the importance of maintaining vigilance in staving off the disease.
“If people continue to take precautions as necessary, we hopefully won’t see that second surge,” Brocious said.