Open. Safe. Ready. These are the words we’ve worked toward and looked forward to since March. They not only signify the next phase of movement toward the life we remember and our hope for a return to normality; together, these words form a promise to our patients.

Statistics show us that for the first two months of the COVID crisis, patients across the country and in Europe postponed their routine care. Many people with heart disease canceled their cardiology appointments, and many others made the decision to forgo primary care appointments – and so were not diagnosed. The same happened with patients who have diabetes, lung disease, vascular issues, or cancer. For example, studies in the United States and European countries show a 33-percent to 70-percent drop in patients having emergency procedures. 

We have learned a great deal from this virus and continue to learn daily, but it doesn’t take a pandemic to demonstrate that when serious but manageable health conditions are ignored, they become more severe. What begins as an issue to be monitored and treated can become a life-threatening emergency. 

The need for immediate medical attention for a confirmed or suspected heart attack or stroke has not changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The longer a patient waits for evaluation and treatment, the more damage that occurs, and this damage is typically permanent. With stroke, for each minute of delay to treatment, patients lose a week of independence. Nearly all patients with COVID-19 recover and return to normal; stroke and heart attacks never go away if you delay treatment.

Prior to the height of the pandemic, Lifespan hospitals put in place protocols and procedures to keep patients safe from COVID infection. These included screening algorithms, testing and assessment, designated areas for COVID patients, sanitization, eliminating visitation, staff use of personal protective equipment and patient use of masks, and more. Many of these protocols remain in place. 

As I write this, we have discharged more than 1,100 COVID patients, a testament to the protocols and the work of our valiant staff. Our internationally recognized infectious diseases and critical care specialists and our dedicated nurses, physicians, supply chain professionals, laboratory technicians and other essential workers have been at the hospitals and outpatient facilities daily, many caring for or interacting with COVID patients. Words cannot express the depth of my gratitude for their commitment and their courage, so I will borrow a sentiment from Winston Churchill: Never was so much owed by so many to so few. Churchill’s remark dates from 1940, a dark time in a war very different from this one. If we continue to use our protocols and to learn from the virus, we will have similar success – and the world is, again, waiting. 

Timothy J. Babineau, MD

Timothy J. Babineau, MD

Prior to his appointment as Lifespan’s president and chief executive officer, Timothy Babineau, MD served as president and chief executive officer of Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital. Before coming to Rhode Island in 2008, he was the senior vice president and chief medical officer for the University of Maryland Medical Center and School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. Before the 2005 appointment at the University of Maryland, Dr. Babineau held numerous administrative positions, including vice chairman of the division of surgery, surgical residency program director and director of the center for minimally invasive surgery at Boston Medical Center and surgeon-in-chief and medical director for the Boston Medical Center Surgical Associates at Quincy Medical Center. He has been a trustee for the University of Massachusetts and a member of its Audit and Finance Committee.