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It has been a long road for healthcare workers facing this pandemic. We are not through it yet, but as the vaccine has begun to be administered there is an air of hope.

“The vaccine is a sense of joy – a light at the end of the tunnel. My Covid story is going to end” said Dr. Kris McVea, Chief Medical Officer, OneWorld Community Health Centers.

The fight started in back in March 2020 as medical reports of the Coronavirus became available. Through the leadership of Dr. McVea OneWorld began the process of increasing safety protocols to prepare for the virus hitting Nebraska. Screeners were placed at entrances to check all those incoming for potential Covid-19 symptoms.

All employees were required to start wearing masks and then masks were provided for patients. Increased environmental controls and air filtering devices were placed throughout all OneWorld clinics. In a short period of time telehealth services were up and running, drive-up Covid-19 testing and separated areas for well patient checks. Additionally, work from home procedures were established for staff to limit the number of people in clinic areas.

“I was very thankful we started all of the additional safety protocols when we did” said Dr. McVea. “The Monday following the requirement of all staff to be masked, we received our first Covid-19 patients coming through the doors.”

The first three months of the pandemic Dr. McVea lead on pure adrenaline. Organizing and training staff every other day and retraining as new information came from the CDC. “Working long days without a day off, I was not sleeping well. It was a lot a responsibility. I didn’t want patients to die or employees to get Covid. I wanted to ensure we were doing everything possible to keep our community healthy.” OneWorld has seen how the pandemic cannot be taken lightly.

“Early on we had two young dads present with Covid” said Dr. McVea. “Neither of them had underlying health issues. They tried to stick it out too long at home and they both left behind young children. The toll of telling people bad news is very hard – it is a heavy burden to carry.” Weather in person or on the phone “to hear someone scared, isolated and short of breath. It has been hard on all frontline staff.”

“A few weeks ago a patient who I have been caring for the last fifteen years passed away. She had health issues and would come in to see me regularly. We all got to know her. She was very positive and she was doing well. She died at home before she could get her Covid results back. That hit me very hard” said Dr. McVea.

“After everything we had worked on together to help her live a long healthy life.”

The toll of this pandemic on people, our nation and the world has been unlike anything most of us have seen. The suffering is hard to put into words. In our community, South Omaha in particular, has experienced increased suffering. People have been afraid to go to work, but many OneWorld patients have been left with no choice in order to provide for their families. Those who contracted the virus were often quarantined without pay and many have been laid off as businesses struggle. The demand for food and essentials among OneWorld patients and the South Omaha area saw an increase in Covid during the holiday season and it was hard on families already struggling.

Beyond the financial struggles, anxiety, social stresses and isolation are taking a toll and there are children that cannot go to school and do not have online access at home. Parents are unable to help because they do not speak English well enough or they have not attended school themselves. Children we care for are not progressing at the same level as their peers in the community with more resources. They are anxious, bored, sad, and isolated. “I have been struck by how challenging it is for people who are already pretty marginalized and do not have many resources.”

“We had a patient test positive for Covid-19 who was a member of a very large family. Our staff worked for hours with the mother figuring out ways to quarantine a family of twelve in a very tiny home with one bathroom. As close as we have been with our patients this pandemic has brought us into people’s homes in a way we have never been before” said Dr. McVea. It has really brought the challenges to a new light.

There are so many patients and people in the community around OneWorld clinics in tremendous need. “Our goal from a leadership level has been to take a long-term approach. It has been stressful, but I have been so inspired by our core leaders and feel a stronger sense of connection to our mission and a deeper trust in each other. I have been so proud of our team. I have seen people step-up and blossom into leaders.”

During a recent snow storm after working a full shift one of our staff delivered a pulse oximeter to a patient’s home. It was one of our winter days, and it was so slick the car would not make it up the driveway, so our employee walked and stood on the front porch in the cold waiting for the patient to come out to share the results. That patient was then sent to the hospital because how low the oxygen levels were. Actions just like this have helped us save many peoples’ lives and get them the care they need.

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