Because Riverview Health President and CEO Seth Warren’s annual State of Health was canceled for two years because of COVID-19, it’s not surprising the pandemic was still a main topic when Warren was finally able to deliver an address.
“I know everyone is sick of hearing about COVID-19,” he said April 27 at the Noblesville Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Purgatory Golf Club in Noblesville. “It’s been an absolute challenge for us the last couple of years. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It has strained us emotionally, physically and every way possible. I know people often think (hospitals) want COVID patients because they get paid so well. That’s a fallacy. We do not get paid well for COVID patients. We would rather COVID patients not be in the hospital. We would rather not have COVID patients and be able to care for patients other than COVID. I wanted to put those rumors to rest.”
Warren thanked the community for its support, especially during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
“The support we got was incredible,” he said. “People were so generous with food and supplies and everything they offered to us.”
Warren said Riverview set up a vaccination clinic and administered 18,851 vaccinations, starting in December 2020.
“When that first vaccine was given, there were tears in the eyes of all the employees,” he said. “So many people came through so excited to be vaccinated because it meant the end of the isolation and the end of not being able to see new grandchildren.”
Warren said across the U.S., cancer cases are rising.
“Your health behaviors can affect cancer, but you can be the healthiest person and still get cancer,” he said. “Even as a healthier county (in the state), we are going to be subject to growing cancer numbers.”
Dr. Eric Marcotte, Riverview’s chief medical officer, said the COVID-19 shutdown affected screenings.
“You go two years without mammograms, colonoscopies and prostate cancer checks, there are an awful lot of people getting caught now with much more advanced cancers,” Marcotte said. “It’s sobering to watch. Those are all three things that anyone can get, it’s not lifestyle.”
Marcotte encouraged people to get cancer screens.
“You could literally save your own life,” he said. “People didn’t get diagnosed in 2020, and now they are diagnosed in 2022 with a far-too-advanced cancer to be cured of. It’s sad and disappointing, but it’s part of the downside of COVID. We’ve seen that with cardiovascular heart disease and some lung diseases because people didn’t get treated because they were too scared to go to the doctor or the hospital. And they are paying the price right now.”
Warren said he is an example of how delaying screening can be a problem. Warren said he put off his colonoscopy at age 50 until he was 51 1/2. Finally, Warren’s wife had his assistant find a day to schedule it.
“Fortunately, they found cancer at a very early stage,” Warren said. “I went to a routine screening, and they found cancer. If I waited longer, it would have been more advanced.”
Warren said there is rarely a day that goes by when hospital officials don’t talk about staff shortages.
“What we saw was a lot of baby boomers got out of the workforce the last couple of years,” he said. “We knew there was this shortage that was looming as baby boomers were going to leave the workforce. What we didn’t know is so many were going in a very condensed period of time, and it was going to be in the midst of a pandemic. Unfortunately, we got the double whammy as the need went up and supply went down.”
Warren said hospital officials are discussing with universities from an education standpoint how it can recruit more nurses.
“We are always instituting various signup bonuses,” he said. “One thing we have is a good environment to work in. Some people say they can make more money elsewhere but (they) like working for Riverview.”
Warren said short-term engagements for nurses have been popular.
“You work here for 12 weeks and then work somewhere else for 12 weeks,” he said. “I understand why they are doing it. If you are young and unattached, you get to see different parts of the country and figure out where you want to live.”