Hennepin Healthcare urges prevention, vigilance as flu season looms and COVID-19 remains a threat

Essential hospitals across the country call on communities to adhere to recommendations for handwashing, mask wearing, and other protective measures

Hennepin Healthcare has joined Valleywise Health of Phoenix, America’s Essential Hospitals, and a dozen other essential hospitals – those with a safety-net mission – in an urgent call for all Americans to remain vigilant and continue preventative actions to combat the spread of COVID-19.

As the nation faces a potential second surge of COVID-19 with cases on the rise in many states, hospital leaders are imploring the public to double down on safety measures to help keep at-risk people and health care workers safe.

“The surge we saw earlier this spring and summer was devastating,” explains Dr. Jim Miner, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Hennepin Healthcare. The hospital cared for the highest volume of COVID positive patients of any Twin Cities hospital during the initial surge of cases. “We’ve made innovative changes to our emergency department and campus to safely care for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, but of course the ideal scenario is to avoid getting sick.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the country’s underrepresented communities – the same populations commonly served by essential hospitals. Leaders at Hennepin Healthcare are asking the public to maintain the most basic – and effective – health and safety measures to keep people safe. These are known as the three Ws: wear your mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance.

“We understand that people are growing tired of hearing prevention messages,” continues Dr. Miner. “So often these messages aren’t taken seriously until an exposure happens to someone you know – or even you. Don’t wait until then. What we’re hearing from patients is that many of their exposures may have been preventable.”

Dr. Miner also encourages everyone to have a conversation with the people they live with to understand their risk of exposure when they are away from home, for example, at work. Are co-workers adhering to safety measures? If not, household members can still practice the 3Ws to avoid bringing the virus home.

There are already more than 8 million cases in the United States and more than 224,000 deaths due to COVID-19. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, COVID-19 cases in our state continue to rise. While cases decreased in many hot spots in the early spring months, infections are rising again in many states, and some experts are concerned deaths will hit 300,000 by the end of the year.

The CDC reports that most COVID-19 infections are spread through contact with an infected person or through exposure to respiratory droplets within a range of 6 feet. Washing your hands often, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart from others are the most effective ways to stop the spread of the virus.

The nation’s essential hospitals and health systems provide access to high-quality care for all people. They serve large volumes of patients from the most vulnerable populations, including the underinsured and uninsured.

Hennepin Healthcare takes a pulse of the pandemic

COVID-19’s rapid arrival in Minnesota in March 2020 created myriad changes across the community – and a snapshot of that impact is now available in a report from Hennepin Healthcare.  

A collaboration for quality improvement between Hennepin Healthcare and Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute (HHRI) emerged to design and collect a phone-based survey between May 11 and June 12, 2020.

“This survey, in the midst of a novel pandemic, offers us a unique, real-time view of what our community was experiencing,” explains Kate Diaz Vickery, MD, MSc, Co-Director of the Health, Homelessness and Criminal Justice Lab at HHRI. “Our goal was to assess the needs of our primary care patients – especially those at highest risk of poor outcomes – and generate discussion about addressing concerns.” 

“We believe that this report shares the ‘pulse’ of the community during a time of uncertainty that will lead to positive work at both ends: the care for COVID and Basic Needs at the same time, as this is, in reality, a syndemic: two pandemics at one: the viral and the health inequities,”  said Maria Veronica Svetaz, MD, MPH, Medical Director of Aqui Para Ti/Here For You, an Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative/MDH Grantee, who was also on the project’s committee.

Nearly 400 adult primary care patients reflected on their experiences with the arrival of COVID-19 and its resulting social and economic impacts.

Key findings include:

  • 35% of respondents worried about affording food. Spanish speaking (58%) and Black patients (42%) were disproportionately food insecure
  • 14% reported being homeless at the time of the survey and 32% were worried about being able to pay their rent/mortgage or other housing costs. Non-English speakers were the most likely to report worry about paying housing costs, with 53% of Spanish speakers and 62% of Somali speakers reporting concerns.  
  • The majority of respondents reported access to internet-connected smartphones (89%) and email (81%). Patients varied in their access to an internet-connected computer (57%), and 1 in 4 expressed challenges paying their phone bill (26%).
  • Respondents were generally willing to use video visits (72%).  Qualitative feedback from patients indicated that many would need support to learn how to use necessary technologies. 

The entire report is available at www.hennepinhealthcare.org/basicneedssurvey.