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Let’s refocus on our hometown heroes

Recently, I dropped off coffee and treats for health care workers at both Asante and Providence hospitals, along with the Asante and La Clinica COVID testing sites. As I thanked staff, I saw people who had reached new levels of exhaustion and burnout, and who were putting themselves at risk of exposure for COVID-19 every day. I also saw the remarkable tenacity, grace and even humor they are still showing, as they work the front lines of the biggest surge the Rogue Valley has seen in COVID cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

More than 18 months into life with COVID-19, many of us are weary and grieving. We have lost loved ones, and some of us have battled serious illnesses ourselves. We’re longing for a return to “normal” that still seems very far off. Our health care workers are also weary. In hospitals, nurses and doctors have given their all every day, caring for gravely ill people who need intensive care measures, as the hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19 keep climbing. Support staff who perform the critical services to care for patients and support doctors and nurses—including intake workers, medical assistants, social workers, cleaning staff and more — have been stressed, as the work demands have been so high during this surge.

Our health care clinics are also stretched thin. Providers have added layers of responsibility, as they implement safety measures to protect patients and staff alike. Clinics have pivoted to deal with a continually changing environment to maintain the preventive and chronic care services we all need. First responders have flexed to come up with creative solutions to serve high-risk or vulnerable patients. The Oregon Health Authority/Aging and Persons with Disabilities has also helped, including creating a decompression unit for discharges from the hospital and brainstorming support measures for providers. Critically, mental health and substance use treatment providers have been working hard to meet our community’s needs, as we all deal with the incredible stressors of a pandemic, fires and high smoke levels.

All of these efforts, from managing critically ill hospital patients to creating drive-thru vaccination and testing sites to negotiating telehealth appointments over shaky connections, have shown a commitment and determination that are truly nothing short of heroic.

While the news is often somber these days, there is reason to hope. We have access to very effective vaccines that greatly reduce the risk of serious illness or death. It’s encouraging to see Jackson County vaccination rates increase in recent weeks. In unity with our health care partners, Jackson Care Connect and CareOregon are doing our part to help the community by mandating vaccines for all staff members. We encourage everyone in the community age 12 or older to consider getting a vaccine, as they are safe, free and effective.

By now, we know this pandemic has many waves. With schools back in session, many worry the next wave may affect our children in ways we haven’t seen before. We are grateful for the careful planning from our school boards, teachers and administrators, as they educate our children, and do everything they can to keep kids safe during in-person learning.

We ask the community to join us in supporting our providers and all of those whose job involves serving the public in person. Each of us can do our part by helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 through continued mitigation efforts like masking and social distancing, and by getting a vaccine to reduce our risk of getting sick.

Jackson Care Connect is committed to the continued support of our provider network as we weather these tough times. We are grateful for all you are doing each day.

Jennifer Lind is the CEO of Jackson Care Connect, part of the CareOregon family. Jackson Care Connect serves more than 50,000 members in Jackson County as an Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) Coordinated Care Organization.