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Stepping Up and Giving Thanks During Challenging Times

By Karen Barber, CEO, Yoakum Community Hospital

Like many other community hospitals, Yoakum Community Hospital, in Yoakum, Texas, experienced unprecedented challenges this year due to the COVID pandemic. Thanks to compassion and kindness, hospital healthcare teams, suppliers and community members also have found support and reasons to cheer, despite the difficult times.

August 2021 was unlike any month this 23-bed Critical Access Hospital has experienced in its 99-year history. The Delta variant of COVID-19 swept through Central Texas at a rapid pace, and YCH admitted large numbers of COVID-positive patients who were much sicker than the patients normally treated here. The large number of cases also overwhelmed hospitals throughout the area and left nowhere to transfer patients who needed a higher level of care than YCH could provide. At YCH, our staff were heroic and so dedicated and compassionate in every way with the patients.

During that time, 65 percent of Yoakum’s patients had COVID, and many needed hospitalization for more than two weeks. ICU beds were fully occupied. Several patients needed ventilator support, and the hospital’s first COVID deaths were reported. The challenges were real and heavy. Although the team was doing everything possible, it was easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed.

Hospital staff pulled together in more ways than one. Team members shifted to other departments to clean patient rooms and offered to help. With surgeries on hold, the hospital’s surgical staff set up and ran a Regeneron monoclonal antibody infusion center in the hospital’s surgical waiting room. This makeshift infusion center was a huge help because all patients who received this drug were able to heal at home and avoid hospital admission.

Meanwhile, a patient presented with flesh-eating bacteria that required immediate surgery. With no empty beds or a surgeon available, I reached out to Gonzales Memorial Hospital. Even though their facility was also strained, they did have a surgeon available and the hospital admitted the patient, completed the surgery, and transferred her back to YCH for healing. Their compassion and willingness to help saved her life.

Another challenge faced by the hospital was an oxygen shortage triggered by so many patients in need. The normal oxygen delivery schedule at YCH is once every four-to-six weeks. During this time, we desperately needed it every four days because of the high volumes used by COVID patients. Unfortunately, all area hospitals faced this issue. One of the scariest moments was when we were watching the levels drop and praying for the delivery truck to pull up in time. Thankfully, it did. Oftentimes there are angels among us.

The Yoakum community stepped up to care for hospital caregivers by sending breakfast tacos and other gestures of appreciation for the herculean efforts being put forth.

In many ways, the pandemic has created a greater sense of community and emphasized the importance of helping your neighbor. The YCH team has learned what they’re capable of doing. Everyone pitched in and did their absolute best.

The challenges and high stakes also led to some heightened celebrations. When a COVID patient who had been with us for 15 days was discharged, the team came together to cheer and provide a hallway parade. It felt good to celebrate a recovery after such a grave illness.

The pandemic also has emphasized the importance of Yoakum Community Hospital’s steadfast presence and service to the community as it nears its one hundredth year. Being a community resource for so long is a solid foundation, and our team plans to continue providing healthcare in this community well into the future. It will be exciting in 2022 to celebrate this history. Anniversary events are focused around honoring former and current healthcare workers. Everyone needs some extra support and recognition in times of crisis.

The hospital plans to celebrate its caregivers and supportive community during events marking its one hundredth-year anniversary in May 2022. Anniversary events include a golf tournament, a historical exhibit at the Yoakum Heritage Museum, and the dedication of a century oak tree in front of the hospital. Our grand finale of events will be a Century Celebration Dinner. We are grateful to serve our community into the next century.

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