Baptist HealthTalk

Stories from the Front Lines of the COVID-19 Surge

July 21, 2020 Baptist Health South Florida, Ana M. Cabrera, APRNRachel Evers MSN, Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., Yvonne Johnson, M.D., Samer Fahmy, M.D., Season 1 Episode 27
Baptist HealthTalk
Stories from the Front Lines of the COVID-19 Surge
Show Notes Transcript

In this special edition of the podcast, we share emotional stories from healthcare workers on the front line of the pandemic. These dedicated men and women, under enormous pressure as COVID-19 cases surge, are asking for the public to take this health crisis seriously and do what is necessary to slow the spread of the disease. Listen to their heartfelt pleas on this episode of Baptist HealthTalk.  We urge you to share this podcast with your family, friends and co-workers.

(Note: These stories are excerpted from a Resource Live streaming event which can be viewed on Baptist Health South Florida’s Facebook page.)

For more information about COVID-19 please visit


At Baptist Health, South Florida, it's our mission to care for you when you're injured or sick and help you stay healthy and fit. Welcome to the Baptist Health Talk podcast, where our respected experts bring you timely, practical health and wellness information to improve your family's quality of life. The Coronavirus surge is taking a toll on our healthcare workers. Hear their emotional stories on this episode of Baptist HealthTalk. 



Dr. Fialkow: Hi everyone, I’m your host, Dr. Jonathan Fialkow, I’m the chief population health officer at Baptist Health South Florida and a certified lipid specialist at Miami Cardiac and Vascular Institute. 

I want to welcome you to a special edition of the Baptist HealthTalk podcast. The current surge in COVID-19 cases is putting incredible stress on our healthcare system and the dedicated men and women on the front lines of this crisis.  We’ve asked some of them to share their personal experiences of fighting this pandemic, day in and day out. They’re speaking from the heart in this emotional, powerful, and we hope, eye-opening episode of our podcast.  


Dr. Fialkow: My guests shared their stories during a July 17th ‘Resource Live’ panel discussion on Facebook, which I was honored to host.  You can find a link to that video in the program notes for this podcast. Today you’ll be hearing from an impressive group of professionals:


·       Dr. Yvonne Johnson: Chief Medical Officer for South Miami Hospital 

·       Dr. Samer Fahmy: Chief Medical Officer for Boca Raton Regional Hospital 

·       Ana Cabera: Asst. Vice President & Interim Chief Nursing Officer at Homestead Hospital

·       RACHEL EVERS:  Director of Surgical Services at Baptist Hospital. 


Dr. Fialkow: We’ll pick things up with an aspect of the pandemic that is particularly difficult for patients, families and caregivers:  visitors not being allowed in the hospitals. Then we’ll let the discussion flow from there.  Here’s Dr. Yvonne Johnson:


Dr. Yvonne Johnson: We can't allow visitation um in an environment where we have surging virus in our community but this is really a difficult issue and particularly when we have

patients who are at end of life or you know who are very sick in the hospital and I have to take my hat off and give kudos to our nurses and how much they communicate with the families that are at home whether it's through phone calls or through Ipads and our face timing we've had our foundation who have provided us with lots of Ipads so to facilitate that but it's really the heart of the nurses that are extending themselves to communicate with family members 


Dr. Jonathan Fialkow I think it is um um well said that the uh the nurses have just uh performed incredibly above and beyond what anyone would have expected I'm sure they would be asked to do in their professional careers. Ana, how about this visitor policy which again is very tough one but but seriously appropriate for the patient's safety um how are the nurses instructed to handle that what resources and support do they have?


Ana Cabera: Yeah so as Dr. Johnson mentioned the Foundation has donated several Ipads to each facility  and they're using those a variety of methods to communicate with family  members and loved ones for each patient and i think they appreciate and the families more than anything really appreciate the effort and time it has taken to connect with them and let them know how their loved ones are doing.


Dr. Jonathan Fialkow: I want to take that point regarding the nurses’ role as a caregiver um and extend that to to everyone and it's kind of a personal uh angle but I think it's very relevant given the circumstances of the pandemic and how our society is dealing with it. So I'm going to ask each of you a difficult question. We see much misinformation and even downplaying of the real danger of the coronavirus. Um you guys are all personally involved, you’re representative of medical and nursing staffs who are exposed to the illness, going home to your families after working um we're seeing the complications of this in real life including death. How does it make you feel when you hear people denying that the COVID-19 pandemic really exists or that hospitals are really full and stressed? I'll start with Rachael, um answer that as personally as you're willing.


Rachael Evers: I think the first thing that I feel when you ask that question is is is a great sense of sadness. In regards to the last question: first I want everybody to know that your loved ones are not alone. The nurses and the frontline providers will not allow that. No one here is alone. We will step in and be there for you when you cannot be here, so I want people to realize that in the first way. Sorry it's very emotional. I think the second thing is it is very sad because it is very personal. You have a new routine right when you go home you have to take a shower, take off your clothes before you hug your child, before you hug your husband, before you hug your partner. You come-- you work long hours, you compartmentalize the feelings that you have here, you don't want to talk about it when you go home because you've talked about it all day long and it's just an overwhelming sense of sadness. 

And I wish you people could feel and see and understand what we go through every day because it's very emotionally draining but as I said earlier as healthcare providers we jump in and do whatever is necessary to take care of our community because this is a calling for us, it goes deeper than a job or a profession and so we don't know how to not do it and, you know, sometimes it's at the expense of ourselves. We will always be here for you. We will go the great distance, we will be your loved one when they can't be here, we will fight for you when you cannot fight and we will pour everything from our

heart into making sure that you get better.


Dr. Jonathan Fialkow: So the listeners can see the passion and compassion of Rachael and she is just an example, a shining example of the Baptist Health staff and how we are approaching the patient and the family during this pandemic. Yvonne, we've had conversations about this. What are your frustrations? What would you want to say to the community at large regarding um the seriousness of what's happening at the hospitals and the reality of the COVID-19 illness?



Dr. Yvonne Johnson: Well um as the chief medical officer at South Miami Hospital I feel like I speak for my medical staff, and I think Rachael expressed so well the depth of the commitment that not only our nurses feel but that our doctors feel. They are giving of themselves all day every day, they're exhausted, they're mentally fatigued. It takes so much to come in and see this overwhelming number of patients but also get in and out of PPE, it's just very daunting. But exactly as Rachael says, this is what we signed up for and we are committed to being there and doing it. But I do find that my staff and myself that we are disheartened when we go home and you listen to the news or you go on social media and you see that there are doubters out there. And they're not just doubters out in the community in the the country at large but even within our own community. And I've had to reach out on Facebook and say listen you know me, you know who I am, you know where i work and you know-- how can you not trust when we tell you that we're burgeoning? That we have three, four, five times the number of patients now than we did back in May? That spaces in our hospitals that weren't ICUs last week are ICUs this week? That you know we  are battling all kinds of shortages in trying to take care of patients whether it's medicine whether it's staff you know and we are coming together and taking care of people at the exact same level that we would be able to that we would take care of people no matter what. So you know I don't want to give the impression that we're not able to meet a standard we really are but it's not without that the emotional cost of feeling that we're not being supported by a community that's not taken seriously this virus and the biggest tool that we have to manage not to continue to spread this outbreak.  You know I think our doctors are really disheartened by the fact that there's still controversy about wearing a mask I think they're disheartened by the fact that community members are are not social distancing and I think they're really disheartened by the fact that there is doubt about what they are living every single day.


Dr. Fialkow: It's such a difficult situation for people who aren't in the middle of it to comprehend, that people just tend to think it doesn't exist and unfortunately that is that is not true. Sam, um what would you want to tell the community about the reality of COVID 19?


Dr. Samer Fahmy: You know Jonathan, the thing about science is that it's true whether you believe it or not and we have data, we have numbers and we have our own eyes and we can see what's happening on the ground. And the ER that wasn't full a month ago is full with COVID patients now. We could see that our one COVID unit in in many of our hospitals has turned into two, three or four COVID units just to try to to manage the number of people that are coming in here requiring hospitalization. People don't end up in the hospital with COVID 19 for for a small reason. Usually they require additional support like they can't breathe on their own and they need oxygen they need certain medications that must be administered within a hospital setting because they can't take them by mouth. And you know the fact that this many people over a one month period of time have ended up needing hospitalization is a reflection of how many more people there are in the community that are spreading this infection. 

We know that every person that gets infected likely spreads it to two or three others and if we're not going to take this seriously I'm not going to believe that this is a serious nationwide and global problem it's really going to slow down the recovery efforts it's going to slow down the ability for our kids to go back to school or for us to go back to the ovies or for us to you know to to be with loved ones more closer and share a hug or a kiss or otherwise it just it it sets us back when we don't have the majority of the people in our community and in our society really taking this seriously believing the numbers believing the people that are working on the front lines that are telling you from you know from the bottom of their hearts we need help. We can't do this on our own, we need the people out there to you know to listen to us in our plea for help and try to social distance try to wear the mask you know try wash your hands don't touch your face all these simple things can make a difference not just to you getting infected but we're separated through multiple degrees with that elderly person getting infected and dying. And it's not the elderly person that's nursing that's in the nursing home and bedridden, we're talking about grandma who's at home who's who's you know who's who's functioning very well and if she gets infected she may not have a chance to make it. There are there's up to 30 or 40 times mortality rate in patients that are 85 and above so we’ve got to be extra careful. And the first step with that is admitting there is a problem and we have a clear problem and we are not doing a good job as a as a community responding to it. We need to do better.


Dr. Fialkow: So to all the listeners um we're asking you to not just ask the questions to get the information but we want you to be ambassadors of the information so if you see or you have an opportunity to educate someone about the purposes and the benefits of the social distancing and the masks and we're going to get into that a little bit in a few minutes. Please, you know, don't don't let that go we need this, we need a society to come together to really control this and on the front lines you listeners are hearing again this impassioned plea by our health care leaders who are experiencing this and leading teams are experiencing it. 

Yvonne, we've mentioned masks a few times, so can you talk a little bit about masks; do they work? What would our recommendations be? What would we recommend to both people and



Dr. Yvonne Johnson: Yeah well we absolutely know that masks work and they work though most effectively when everyone is wearing a mask. And there are studies that show that if both people are wearing a mask and one of them has a disease there's a very low risk of transmitting the disease to that other person. They're saying now that you know if we all did this, if 95% of us were wearing masks, within four to six weeks we would be back to a point where our community could open up again and do it in a safe way. And so i think it's not only something that supports us as health care workers but it supports our communities, businesses and it saves the lives of our friends and neighbors.


Dr. Fialkow: How are you all handling it how are you staying safe? How are you taking care of yourself through all this? Let me start with Rachael.


Rachael Evers: (laughs) Let's start with the emotional one. I think that, one, I lean on um everyone else going through this pandemic. I lean on my family to get me through it. You know, just trying to explain to people what we're going through here that don't understand and and really um and trying to take

care of our mental health and one another. Nobody knows what we go through except for us and so we really have to check on each other we have to-- you read the eyes, right? You can see the panic in the eyes, you can you you get a good sense of how each other's doing and you and you gotta check on each other. Hey, you you seem like you're struggling today let's let's let's talk it through, let's have a good cry,

let's get angry together, whatever you have to do to get through it.  But the thing is to not not go through it alone.


Dr. Fialkow: Thank you. And Ana, how are you staying safe? How are you staying grounded?


Ana Cabera: Um pretty much I focus my day, on trying to get through the day one day at a time,

make the best of it and try to support each other. The most we can. I'm here for my nurses and for my

staff and that's really what I focus on is how can I support them to get through the day and to get from one day to the next um so you know how do we get them staff how do we get them PPE how do we give them a break. Do we need food I mean just some of the basic necessities is like how can we get them to get through their shift  can sometimes be the best you can do because sometimes they're so stressed and overwhelmed from what they go through every day. On a personal note, it’s spending time with

family, trying to go to the beach whenever you can, take the dog for a walk outside, get outdoors, whatever you can to disconnect for a little while. But really I spend most of my time worried about my staff and how to get them through this.


Dr. Fialkow: Can you talk about how emotional it is for the nurses to have a patient discharged? Have someone with, you know, a success story, if you will?


Ana Cabera: That's the best part of our day, being able to discharge a patient who has really um been resilient and brave to go through such a long hospitalization because the majority of our patients are

really here for a lot longer period of time than they typically are and that's really an exciting time to get them to go back home and spend time and see their families greet them at the entrance.


Dr. Fialkow: Sam, any uh expression of how you handle it?


Dr. Samer Fahmy: You know I think you heard it from everybody. The best way to get through it is leaning on each other and and knowing that we're not going through this alone. There is no doubt that taking care of somebody in the hospital that has COVID is harder than taking care of patients in the hospital before COVID. It requires, it is more emotional, it's more anxiety provoking because of the risks that you're taking and it's more time consuming because of the PPE on and off and the procedures with it. You know everything we do in the hospital has gotten harder, not just on the COVID units but throughout the whole hospital because of the precautions that we have to have in place to protect staff

and patients. Things take longer, things are harder to do. And I think because we were energized in

the beginning to really respond quickly back in March and April and get through it I think we had that energy up front but now that it's extending into July and maybe even August I think the length of time is wearing on people a bit and I think you're you're getting a lot of people that are tired. And that's why we need that community support so that it ends sooner than later because we are putting a lot of pressure

on our hospital systems, we're putting a lot of undue stress on our nurses and our doctors on our on

our staff that's seeing these patient every day. And if there's anything that can be done to help,

we should, and we've identified things that we can do to help with social distancing, mask wearing and everything else we've talked about so it is a plea for help because everybody here is under an enormous amount of pressure.


Dr. Fialkow: I think I want to point out to the uh to the viewers that and as a physician leader I've seen this as you've all seen in leading your departments it's okay to be disruped it's okay to be scared it's okay to be tired it's okay to be frustrated but I have not heard any complaints. I've not heard any complaints from you on the panel, I've not heard complaints from our Baptist Health co-workers. It's it's what we do

in healthcare and we can have all those emotions and experiences but the listeners and those in need should feel reassured that we're here to help them.


Dr. Fialkow: Thank you for listening to excerpts from the program we held last week. There’s a link in our program notes to this Resource Live video, please watch it in its entirety. You can here more extensive conversations with these dedicated folks at Baptist Health.   

As usual, to our podcast listeners, any thoughts, ideas, any topic requests – please email us at

Stay safe. Mask Up.



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