Erie County hospital execs recall heights of the pandemic as COVID emergency ends

The US Department of Health and Human Services announced the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency May 11.

We took a closer look at the kind of impact the pandemic had on Erie County in the last three years.

On May 11, the Department of Health and Human Services is planning to end the public health emergency for COVID-19.

Local medical officials said in the last three years their staff and the community has learned a lot about mitigation efforts.

This came with some challenges as more than 500 Erie County residents died in a two-year span.

In 2021, there were 345 COVID deaths reported in Erie County and 189 deaths in 2022.

The chief operating officer at Millcreek Community Hospital highlighted a difficult time for the community.

“It was January through like March of 2021. That was the worst numbers that we had ever seen. We had the highest number of hospitalizations and the greatest number of deaths here in Erie County and that was all due to people being indoors,” said Marcus Babiak, chief operating officer for Millcreek Community Hospital.

Healthcare providers say one lasting change that the pandemic brought about was the introduction of virtual visits through telehealth.

“Now that we’ve come out and been able to resume, normal hospital operations have really been able to keep a lot of those key-learnings in play to be able to be flexible for changes to continue to utilize the telehealth services,” said Emily Shears, vice president of operations for UPMC Hamot.

“It at least taught us that there are different ways to access care both virtually for those in the hospital and virtually for those not in the hospital yet. So, all of the telemedicine or virtual health type of products that became available during the pandemic, Highmark has chosen to keep all of those in play even post pandemic,” said Tim Law, executive medical director at Highmark.

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