COVID-19: One year later health care workers look back on the challenges, triumphs

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – It was March of last year… when the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in La Crosse County.

Those on the frontlines at our local hospitals remember it like it was yesterday.

Mayo Clinic Health System and Gundersen Health System had to make a lot of changes – and quickly.

From the building layout and staffing to the mental, emotional, and physical toll on health care workers, both medical facilities found themselves facing similar challenges and making tough decisions day in and day out.

But there have also been many triumphs and moments of hope.

“The first couple of COVID patients we had here in the ICU were very sick and were here with us for a couple of weeks, and when those patients pulled through successfully and left the intensive care unit, it made us think ‘okay, we can do this,'” said Melissa Myers, Mayo Clinic Health System clinical care physician.

An extremely difficult challenge both hospitals have faced: turning away patients’ family members.

Myers says human interaction is so important, especially when you’re ill.

By investing in new technology Mayo and Gundersen are now able to keep loved ones together while being apart.

But virtual visits don’t always take away the loneliness patients feel.

Care staff found themselves taking on a new responsibility – without a second thought.

“A lot of our nurses and our CNAs became the patients’ families and support here. They would sit next to them in their rooms and comfort them because they knew their family was not able to be there,” said Scott Rathgaber MD, Gundersen Health System.

Cases are down and more people are getting vaccinated, but health leaders say we’re not out of the woods yet.

They are reminding all of us to be vigilant, be aware, and be thoughtful.