Wake Forest Baptist Health CEO Dr. Julie Freischlag watching COVID numbers closely

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Not many are watching the worsening COVID-19 numbers locally than Dr. Julie Freischlag. As dean of the Wake Forest University Medical School and CEO of Wake Forest Baptist Health (which, with more than 19,000 employees, is the Piedmont-Triad’s largest employer) she’s watching all this from both a medical and economic perspective.

Here’s the text of our most recent conversation (edited for brevity):

Neill

“Where are we locally in the fight against COVID right now.”

Dr. Julie Freischlag

“We’re seeing that second surge not only here, but all across the state. We’ve sort of had stable high numbers for about two weeks now. We’re sitting at about 180 to 190 (COVID patients) within our system. And if you look at the other systems, they have high numbers. This is our highest numbers and we’re staying right at that point.”

Neill

“How old are they (COVID patients)? How sick are they? And has this changed over the last few weeks.”

Dr. Freischlag

“It’s so variable, Neill. That’s what’s so weird about this disease. We did have one couple that got admitted. One was 75 and one was 95. And the one who did best was the 95-year-old. But not everybody is the same. We see some people where we think are going to be very sick, and they’re not.”

Neill

“How close are you to running out of beds?”

Dr. Freischlag

“Well, we have beds. We just don’t have enough staff. And so we actually have some traveling nursing, mainly nursing staff that have started last week and this week which has been helpful. We’re close. You know, we watch beds every day. We’re not turning away patients. We’re seeing many patients sent to us from smaller hospitals where they can’t take care of them. So many of our patients are not from Forsyth County. They’re from counties that are around here that are being sent to us. Then, there’s no choice. We need to take them in and take care of them in the best way we can.”

Neill

“Wake Forest Baptist was the first medical center in North Carolina to receive a shipment (of the Pfizer vaccine). We remember the video of Dr. Ohl (Dr. Chris Ohl, the medical center’s infectious disease specialist) getting the first shot. Have all of your eligible staff members been vaccinated?”

Dr. Freischlag

Almost. The latest numbers today are 8,652. They’re primarily a high percentage of our frontline staff, those that are involved with the COVID-19 virus whether they’re working with it or testing it or seeing patients. And we have 200 who have gotten their second doses.”k

Neill

“Within the last week, Wake Forest Baptist started offering vaccines to a small group of patients, 75 and older. What qualifications do these patients have that make them eligible to receive the shots?”

Dr. Freischlag

“We utilize one of our clinics because we have a clinic for the aging. So patients were coming into the clinic anyway. We offered them the vaccine fo that we could register them and follow them. We wanted to see how that worked, and you’ll see us start vaccinating more patients 75 and older throughout the region as we go forward.”

Neill

“What kind of hope do you have to offer at this point that will help our community get through this?”

Dr. Freischlag

“We got the vaccine in record time, and we know that we’ll be able to get people vaccinated to get on the other side of this so that we can make it happen. When I went down there, I was helping give vaccines right before Christmas because, you know, the Christmas time was really hard to get vaccines because people were in and out. So I was drawing up the vaccines so they could give them. I tell you the people coming in and getting the vaccine had such a sense of hope. I mean, it almost felt like we had a vaccine cocktail party. The energy and enthusiasm those getting their vaccine and going on the other side was amazing. So even getting your vaccine can be a very wonderful experience.”

For more information on Wake Forest Baptist Health’s response to COVID-19, click here.

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