Milestones We Didn’t Want to Reach

Half a million. That’s the number of American lives lost because of the deadliest virus we’ve seen in our lifetime. One year. That’s how long we’ve been battling this pandemic. Twenty Thousand. That’s the number of COVID-19 patients we have treated here at UMass Memorial Health Care this past year. These are all milestones none of us wanted to reach and that seemed unimaginable this time last year.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, March 2) marks one year since we officially opened our systemwide incident command center to manage our response to the crisis. That was a little over a week before Gov. Baker declared a state of emergency (on March 10, 2020) and before the World Health Organization officially declared the crisis to be a pandemic (on March 11, 2020). And on March 12, we had our first diagnosed COVID-19 patient in our system. A lot has happened since then, and while hope is on the horizon with the vaccine rollout, I think it also is important to take a moment to remember all that we accomplished together.

Remembering the Beginning: As the crisis unfolded last March, so did the UMass Memorial story. It was the story of how together we accomplished the unthinkable, the unimaginable. There was no playbook on how to respond to an evolving, highly contagious virus that threatened the world. But we took our emergency response plans, relied on the expertise of our infectious disease specialists and put our problem-solving skills into hyperdrive. We created our own playbook, and hospitals and health systems across our region have looked to us as leaders throughout this challenging time. From opening the first field hospital in the state, to being one of three hospitals in the state to test remdesivir as a potential treatment, from being the first in the state to use convalescent plasma to treat those who were critically ill, to being one of a few health systems in the country to use a “bubble” ventilator instead of intubation – we led the way, providing a path forward for many other health systems.

Taking Pride in What We Did: As I’ve said many times in media interviews and in internal messages this past year, I’m extremely proud of all 14,000 of our caregivers who faced these incredible challenges head on, standing strong and fighting hard for our patients and for each other. Their resilience during the worst health care crisis of our lifetime and their relentless pursuit of excellence, compassion, humanity and healing have been and continue to be awe inspiring.

In fact, the word “relentless” comes up time and again in describing how all of our caregivers have been singularly focused on one thing this past year: to save as many lives as possible. That’s why we’ve added this word to our Everyone, Everyday mantra, and that is the name of a special publication that chronicles the timeline of our initial response to the crisis, produced by our new Office of Philanthropy as a report to donors to our COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. I encourage you to check it out (click on the highlighted text and scroll down to the Relentless publication) to read the moving stories of our caregivers and how the community supported us through the first wave of this pandemic. We’ll continue sharing more of these inspiring stories in a public-facing campaign later in the spring.

Taking Time to Reflect: This time reminds me of the history around D-Day, which refers to the battle of Normandy when the Allied Forces of Britain, America, Canada, and France attacked German forces, essentially turning the tide and bringing an end to World War II. While our war against COVID-19 isn’t over, this is our D-Day as we are turning the tide against this dreaded disease with the vaccine and better treatments. And while there is much to celebrate, we also should acknowledge the loss of our patients, as well as those of us who had loved ones who died from COVID.

We will be hosting a special virtual Facebook Live one-year recognition event on Thursday, March 25, at 10 am to take a moment to reflect on the incredible journey we have all been on together this past year, remember those we have lost, and honor all of our caregivers for their relentless commitment to the communities we serve.

I’ll close by sharing a quote from St. Francis of Assisi that is featured in the Relentless publication that I feel describes the commitment our caregivers have shown during this past year: “Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Our UMass Memorial family did what would have seemed impossible a year ago … we have done what is necessary to defeat this deadly virus. I will be forever grateful for all that our amazing teams have done to care for our patients and each other.

Stay safe and stay strong.


Follow me on Twitter @EricDicksonCEO

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