It’s been a tough match. From the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, Montana’s hospitals have shouldered the weight of caring for our neighbors and protecting the health of our communities. Since the fall, our urban hospitals have operated at or above their staffed capacity and our rural hospitals have been key partners in helping balance the volume of patients needing treatment. Meanwhile, our caregivers and team members tirelessly cared for those stricken with the disease and others in need of care.
And then we caught a break: a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine brought to the front lines of the pandemic in less than one year. The vaccine offers us hope. Frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents were grateful to be among the first to receive the vaccine in December. We encourage all Montanans to get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them.
With new leadership throughout the branches of state government, hospitals remain committed to working together for the well-being of those we serve and the health of our state. We support Gov. Greg Gianforte’s thoughtful approach to revising the state’s vaccination distribution plan, which prioritizes the health of our most vulnerable citizens. The governor’s plan will help reduce the growing mortality from the virus by focusing the next phase on individuals age 70 years and older, those with specific underlying health conditions between the ages of 16 – 69, and Native Americans and other people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the disease.
Our members have been proud partners in Montana’s vaccine distribution and are working diligently to ensure the distribution plan remains successful. At the same time, our hospitals have been inundated with inquiries about COVID-19 vaccine availability, who will be given access, when, and where doses will be available.
It’s important to understand that healthcare providers and public health professionals can only distribute the vaccines allocated to us by the federal government. As doses come in, hospitals are vaccinating eligible recipients. It is encouraging to see the public interested in receiving the vaccine, but we must be patient as we wait on the federal government to keep up with the demand.
The vaccine offers a new form of defense, but until everyone has the opportunity to be vaccinated, we urge all Montanans to continue to follow the playbook from our public health professionals: wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your social distance. These aren’t silver bullets, but they do work – especially when all of us commit to them. Gov. Gianforte recognizes the value of mask-wearing and is leading by example, wearing a mask at the Capitol and urging others to “show respect and care for the people around us.”
Gianforte will chart a different path than his predecessor with his “Montana Comeback Plan,” but one thing remains unchanged: Taking care of our neighbors isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a Montana value. Together we will beat COVID-19. All hands in.
Rich Rasmussen is president and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association.
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