ROANOKE, Va. – Carilion Clinic entered 2020 at the top of its game: helping more patients, offering more services, hiring more staff and just having announced $1 billion worth of expansion projects.
Then, in March, the coronavirus pandemic began.
“Everything was so frightening. You know, we were making decisions without really information,” recalled President and CEO of Carilion Clinic Nancy Agee.
She said as the virus spread across the country, she and her colleagues watched, waited and prepared.
Southwest Virginia’s first COVID-19 case arrived mid-March.
“One of the biggest concerns we had was keeping our staff safe, keeping our community safe and obviously keeping our patients safe,” said Agee.
They scrambled to stock up on PPE, implemented strict visitor policies and ultimately, put all elective surgeries on hold.
Agee said they overcame the challenges thrown at them and also found opportunities.
“It’s been a very different, difficult, at the same time, inspiring year,” Agee said.
Heading into last year, Carilion had plans to launch widespread telehealth in 18 to 24 months.
“We set that up in a matter of three or four days,” Agee said.
The success in telemedicine so far is just the beginning.
Agee is inspired by her hardworking colleagues and now seeing COVID vaccine shots going into arms in Southwest Virginia.
“I got rather teary when I first saw the vaccines coming in. It was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is it. We are going to get past this pandemic. It’s going to take a while but we are going to get past it,’” Agee said. “There was never a moment, never a moment when I thought, ‘What are we going to do next?’ There were plenty of moments when I thought, ‘Okay, how are we going to get through this? But we will’ and we did and we have and we will.”
To date, Carilion has tested more than 100,000 people, cared for around 13,000 COVID patients and administered about 20,000 vaccines.
Bed space and supplies remain stable and they successfully launched telemedicine, seemingly overnight.
“COVID not only gave us a glimpse of our future, it gave us the roadmap,” Agee said.
Carilion is now working to expand telehealth, making it more sophisticated, more accessible and less expensive.
“Even with COVID, we can do many things at the same time and we can provide the best care possible for the communities that we serve,” Agee said.
The pandemic put $1 billion worth of expansion projects on hold, but now, they’re back on track with even more focus on this new age of health care.
“How can we use machine learning, artificial intelligence, even virtual or augmented reality to embed those in the kind of care that we’re designing?” Agee said.
Carilion is embracing the changes brought on by the pandemic while also embracing the new sense of community that’s come from it.
“We have shown together that we are strong, that we are smart, perhaps we’re wiser than we ever considered. Let’s take that grit, let’s take who we are as people in Virginia and just move forward and show the world what we can do,” Agee said.