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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 12 03 21 – Unsung Heroes Under Siege

A few weeks back, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion for the American College of Healthcare Executives to inform attendees about the impact of COVID-19 on our healthcare delivery system. There were a lot of common concerns that we were all experiencing. Imploding care systems beset by overwhelming needs and a spent workforce. A crisis that we can all see deepening into the foreseeable future, particularly within our behavioral health workforce.

There was a moment that has stuck in my head since that presentation. One of the other panelists was talking about how nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals are abandoning the profession. Just leaving. Despite spending years of their lives preparing to do this work. They did not sign up for what they are experiencing. The panelist spoke about the severe pressure that these healers were being subject to for such a long duration. Compounding this challenge is a hostile community as vaccines and the pandemic have become so hyperpolarized. Charred by the Pandemic deaths. Risking their families lives only to be villainized by the communities they serve. I thought back to a number of Vietnam era vets I have been honored to provide services to as an SUD professional. More than a few vets talked about their service, watching friends die in combat and then returning to their communities to get spit on and called baby killers in their own communities. They ended up with complex trauma, not just from the war but also from the response of the nation they served upon their return. It was devastating for those vets and their families.

What occurred with our Vietnam Vets was a moral injury. I see a parallel dynamic playing out in our public SUD care system, woefully underfunded and overburdened for a generation. Trying to serve people with a fraction of the resources needed to effectively do so. Dedicated workers blamed when they could not succeed at a task that they were not resourced to accomplish. We punish those who have done the most with the least as a reflex and without thinking, instead of addressing the complexity of the actual problem. We wound the very healers we depend on for help.

I recently saw my own GP for a routine physical and I brought up the topic. We shared our concerns about what is happening. We talked about the dramatically increasing suicide rates in medical care professionals. Physician suicide rates were already the highest of any profession. The pandemic has led to a 20% increase in suicide rates for all medical professions. A humble physician, he claimed to not be on the front line. Instead, he praised those who are in the Emergency Departments. I do not agree. I think our whole healthcare system, including those in our public behavioral health care system is in fact that leading edge. As I left his office, I told him I disagreed, called him out as a hero, and thanked him for his service to our community.

Despite being exhausted, despite being vilified, and despite the news that we may not be as near to the end of the tunnel as we had hoped with concerns about the omicron variant, a whole lot of people rolled out of bed this morning to do it all over again. Without them we would be in a terrible spot. They deserve our praise, full stop. If you are one of these dedicated medical professionals. I am grateful beyond words to you. THANK YOU for your service!

The parallel to Vietnam is a fitting one. I have friends and people I respect who will read this who chose not to get vaccinated. There are people I respect who did get vaccinated but worry about government and what lockdowns and vaccine mandates may mean in relation to our collective freedoms. This is a gratitude post; it is not my intent to stoke those fires. I would point out that parallel to Vietnam and how, over time many of those who opposed the war ended up regretting how they treated our service members in uniform. Service members came home to hostility as a result of deep ideological differences present across our society in that era. Now, our medical professionals are battling a foe no one could have anticipated. We owe them our gratitude, not our venom. We cannot take for granted that this whole system of people will make it through this without our support. They are the glue holding our communities together. We need to care for them as they tend our friends and family members despite our ideological differences.

Somehow, we need to figure out how to keep this whole society thing together. It is looking a bit fragile to me at this juncture. I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I do believe being civil to each other and honoring the most honorable among us is a good place to start. We must magnify the things that bring us together or we will surely disintegrate as a nation, and if we let that happen, shame on all of us.

If you are in medical care or in a behavioral health service role, thank you! I see you and I appreciate you. Thousands of lives depend on you getting up and serving us each and every day and doing your job. Without you, society begins to fail. If we cannot even take care of the infirm, we cannot accomplish much else worth doing. Thank you for getting out of bed and going into work today despite all the challenges. I am grateful for what you are doing. You are my heroes. What are you grateful for today?

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