One year after the first COVID-19 patient was admitted to a Hartford HealthCare (HHC) hospital, system officials are hopeful and optimistic that things are finally improving, but urge the community to remain vigilant and practice safety measures for a while longer.

In a roundtable discussion Thursday, HHC administrative and clinical leadership offered numbers telling the pandemic’s story, including:

  • 76 percent of Connecticut’s most vulnerable population – elderly – is vaccinated, according to Dr. James Cardon, HHC’s chief clinical integration officer.
  • More than 180,000 vaccines have been administered through the system’s fixed and mobile clinics, noted HHC President and CEO Jeffrey Flaks.
  • More than 900,000 COVID-19 tests, Flaks said, have been performed by HHC teams.
  • Providers conducted more than 200,000 virtual healthcare visits in 12 months, compared to 50 a month pre-pandemic.
  • HHC teams cared for more than 9,500 hospitalized COVID patients.
  • Hospitalization rates dropped from a high of 425 last April to 86, Flaks said.

The last notation – coupled with nationwide concerns about spring break activities sparking infection surges – came with a plea for vigilance, mask wearing, hand hygiene and social distancing.

“We need to continue to be steadfast and remain focused and vigilant,” Flaks said.

A year has passed since he received a 10 p.m. call on March 13, 2020, that an elderly woman with COVID-19 was admitted to Hartford Hospital. He has “seen despair,” but Flaks stressed that HHC, the state and nation also experienced hope, grit, gratitude and a commitment to evolution.

“We have been blessed with a tremendous history, great lineage and endowment,” Flaks said of HHC. “We survived the Spanish flu, polio, HIV and ebola, and we’re going to emerge from this better than normal.”

Clinically, the pandemic pushed healthcare teams to innovate and enact new processes, Dr. Cardon added.

“We recognized we needed to do things we’d never done before and figure things out quickly,” he said. “It’s remarkable to have lived through this.”

The pandemic highlighted some challenges HHC is addressing, such as disparities in healthcare accessibility, access to quality care and preserving supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE).

Flaks recalled a debate at the highest levels of the system over whether to hand out PPE to colleagues as well as people coming into the hospitals. Some were concerned strained supplies would run out, but they opted to distribute the masks.

“It’s hard to appreciate the courage it took in that moment but we were very committed to leading. That’s who we are,” he said.

The pandemic overall has yielded stunning medical achievements, said Keith Grant, APRN, Senior System Director of Infection Prevention. He pointed to the mRNA technology used to create the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and evidence that preventive measures like masks and social distancing greatly impact the spread of infection.

“Clinical data shows that if you have asthma or diabetes, we can tell you that you can decrease your chance of mortality if you wear a mask during flu season, for example,” Grant said.

The system’s current commitment is vaccinating eligible residents using every dose delivered by the government within five days, Flaks said.

“Our infrastructure is built to do about 80,000 vaccines a week. The only limiting factor is the amount of vaccine we can get,” he said.