A letter from Greg Staker, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Uintah Basin Healthcare

Dear Friends, Neighbors, and Fellow Basinites,

It was not long ago that I wrote a letter to the editor about COVID and vaccines. Since my letter, I have worked a crazy week caring for the hospitalized patients at UBH. I spent time with the staff in the ICU, the med/surg unit, and the ER. I saw their amazing efforts and witnessed their exhaustion. I also heard the managers of these departments share deep concerns about the health and welfare of their staff. We don’t know how long they can do this.

And then last night, this whole pandemic became painfully personal. My second daughter, Brynn, is getting married tomorrow. After 18 months of caring for people during this pandemic and walking repeatedly into the line of fire, I awakened with a fever. At 2 am last night I tested positive for COVID. Today, I will miss the wedding of my daughter while I recover from this illness and try not to spread it to others.

Last week I cared for up to 9 patients a day. Almost all were unvaccinated. Every day we had multiple people fighting for their lives on high-flow oxygen. This amount of oxygen usually is only administered in an ICU setting but we had both ICU beds full at all times and often 3-4 other patients on high flow oxygen. The patients were so brave. Their families were afraid. Some recovered and some were overwhelmed by the disease. Some died, and some were placed on a ventilator and transferred to a specialty center to receive a last effort to save their lives. I saw courage and fear and regret in the faces of patients and families.

After twenty years living here, I feel like I know you. You are independent and hard working. You are kind and thoughtful. You do not like to be told what to do, but you will do anything for someone in need.

I read a famous book about disease recently. Albert Camus wrote in his book The Plague, “The truth is that nothing is less sensational that pestilence and by reason of their very duration, great misfortunes are monotonous.” Why is it that we respond so differently to sudden crises than we do with prolonged problems? I have seen first hand when you stepped up, taking personal risk, to help someone in trouble even when you individually had apparently nothing to gain and potentially much to lose.

When there was a flood in my neighborhood a few years ago, within hours people we didn’t know, who lived nowhere near us, brought oil field equipment and emptied two feet of standing flood water from a two block area saving hundreds of homes from flooding. There was no question of expense or personal risk. I know at least one man helping that day sustained an injury he had to have surgery to repair. He never expressed regret about being there.

I attended a concealed weapon permit course a few years ago. My take home lesson was that I was very grateful that there are people trained and capable of handling an active shooter situation–and that I am not one of them. I am grateful for their willingness to step up where I lack knowledge and skill and I am willing to trust them because I know them.

This week I heard ER nurses tearfully talk about being verbally challenged and aggressively threatened by angry people in our own hospital. I heard some of the best providers I know say that they have never felt this kind of anger and mistrust. Today, I am sitting out of my own daughter’s wedding because I contracted a disease that we could have controlled or eliminated but instead we are being overwhelmed.

Rely on trustworthy resources such as the CDC or your physician. Trust those who have cared for you for years. We have seen you in vulnerable times and together we have overcome some really big challenges. We need to be together.

I am heartbroken to miss my daughter’s wedding. I do not want this disease. But I am grateful that because of a vaccine it will most likely just be a life disrupter and not life threatening. I am once again asking you to take some risk and help out those who may not be able to help themselves. You would step into danger in a crisis. I have seen you do it and I know you would do it again. This crisis is no less real, it just takes longer to play out. Please reconsider the risk you are running and the risk you are asking others to take. I want so badly to be at my daughter’s wedding. If we had chosen to take this seriously and acted to protect our community, I might be there. Listen to your doctor. Be grateful there are those who have studied and developed the skills to guide you. Just like my experience in concealed weapons class–trust those who have the background expertise. In a few weeks I will be back, caring for you again. Whether you choose to be vaccinated or not I will care for you and your family. That is what we do. Trust us and step up. Take some risk. Get a shot and bring this pandemic under control.

Greg Staker, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Uintah Basin Healthcare