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Saint Francis Health System Warns Of 'A Very, Very Dark Winter' For COVID-19 In Oklahoma

Chris Polansky
Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart (left) bumps elbows with Saint Francis Hospital pulmonologist and critical care physician Dr. Roger Gallup before a press conference at Tulsa City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Representatives of Saint Francis Health System joined Tulsa officials at a press conference on Tuesday to stress just how dire the COVID-19 situation is in northeastern Oklahoma.

"If there was ever a time, I think, when people needed to take responsibility for their sisters and for their brothers, it is that time," said the hospital system's president and CEO, Jake Henry Jr. "I just fear that we are entering a very, very dark winter."

Describing the current moment as "a time of great suffering in the world, in the US, in our state, in our region and here in Tulsa," Henry said he was pleading with Oklahomans to keep hospitals from seeing unsustainable levels of COVID patients.

"Our plea to our citizens in Tulsa and the eastern region of the state is the same as it always has been: Wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance," Henry said. "We are heading in the wrong direction."

"The nurses, doctors, other caregivers and support personnel at our hospitals are tired. Many are exhausted. When they leave their shifts after having spent 12 hours or more wearing personal protective equipment, and when they get in their car and drive home, they are truly spent.

"And when they enter unmasked apathy in public places -- stores, restaurants, and public gatherings -- they feel defeated," Henry said.

In an ad in Sunday's Tulsa World, Saint Francis described their system as at "critical capacity," with more patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 than at any point in the pandemic by far.

Dr. Roger Gallup, a pulmonologist and critical care physician working a COVID unit at Tulsa's Saint Francis Hospital since March, said the situation is "worse now than it has ever been in our community, just as it is in our nation."

"We need to get this pandemic under control before our region's health care system becomes strained to the point where we're out of options, out of beds, and out of staff to care for the sick and injured who need our care," Gallup said. 

Gallup said he felt frustrated by the "casualness" with which he sees people approaching mask wearing and social distancing, which he said was directly linked to an uptick in deaths and hospitalizations, which he said are preventable.

"I believe in liberty, I believe in all those things," Gallup said. "That's why I joined the Army. That's why I fought for the country. But these are things to keep America safe, and to keep our communities going. I don't want to shut things down, and I want people to stay healthy and have their loved ones and everything like that."

"I don't understand why people don't understand what a big deal this is," Gallup said.

Gallup said Saint Francis Hospital has been treating COVID-19 patients from places like Anadarko, Ada and Lawton due to overcapacity hospitals in Oklahoma City.

Earlier this month, Saint Francis Health System announced the death of a surgeon, Dr. Giancarlo Piano, from COVID-19. At least 10 health care providers in Oklahoma are known to have died as a result of the virus. 

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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