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Caution and optimism: Local health experts see a brighter 2021 after the pandemic year


With so much pivoting on health news this past year, The Spokesman-Review asked local leaders in medicine and wellness to offer their resolutions and outlooks for 2021.

Their answers deliver personal and community perspectives that see us emerging stronger after this pandemic. Caution is there, but it’s mixed with optimism.

Dr. Francisco Velázquez, Spokane Regional Health District interim health officer:

My health and wellness goals for next year are to lose some weight, get a COVID-19 vaccine, and stay safe and healthy so I can keep those around me safe and healthy.

My prediction for next year is we will succeed in controlling this pandemic.

Predictable? Maybe, but I think that they are also hopeful.

John Roll, professor; vice dean for research; Community and Behavioral Health interim chair at the Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine:

The pandemic has pushed me into a much more sedentary lifestyle than I had pre-pandemic – 8-10 hours of Zoom meetings a day allow very little time for physical activity. Instead of getting 6,000 steps a day, some days I am lucky to get in 600 steps. I resolve to be more physically active in 2021.

I predict (hope) that people around the world will come out of the pandemic with a greater appreciation for the role behavior plays in health. I am confident fewer people would have died if globally people had adopted simple behavioral interventions on a greater scale (e.g., routine mask wearing, social distancing, not congregating). Simple behaviors like those are, in most cases, easy to implement, and the impact can be profound in terms of reduced suffering.

Certainly, vaccines and antiviral agents are important and exciting, but we all need to take responsibility for our own behavior and not wait for somebody to vaccinate us so that we can continue to ignore simple behavioral steps we can all take to help keep each other safe.

Mary Koithan, WSU College of Nursing dean:

My resolution is to support my family, friends and colleagues in their ongoing search for personal and professional well-being with an emphasis on stress-reduction strategies to live with joy and purpose in the here and now.

My prediction is that with renewed hope and an increased reliance on evidence-informed health policy and prevention and treatment strategies, we will round the bend on this pandemic by early summer.

Dr. Darryl Potyk, associate dean and chief for medical education for Eastern Washington in the University of Washington School of Medicine – Gonzaga University Regional Health Partnership:

Resolution: To get outside in as many new ways as possible; big celebrations for the small wins.

Outlook: It’s going to get better! But not as fast as we would like.

Phil Watkins, Eastern Washington University psychology professor and gratitude researcher:

Resolution: That I would look for, find and appreciate all the beauty, love and grace that life still has to offer me. That I would continue to find joy in my work and calling – something that I have enjoyed for the last 30 years. That I would cherish and remember what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown over the past year. That I wouldn’t take myself so seriously.

Outlook: Although the hope of returning to normal should offer some solace, I’m concerned that we will continue to see increased incidence of emotional disorders, particularly disorders related to depression and anxiety. We are social animals, and we’re embodied creatures, and the social isolation and virtual life that many are experiencing right now is, I’m afraid, a recipe for continued emotional struggles.

The poignant question for me is when we get some kind of control over this virus, will we actively seek embodied connection with others? Or, will we continue right along with our virtual life (predominantly online)? I’m afraid that the path of least resistance will be to continue on in our current habits that we have developed over the last year. Reconnecting with people and life will take effort. We won’t just be able to slide into a life that is truly connected with others.

But, on a more positive note, I really believe that many people have been able to take this last year as a significant pause in life – a chance to reboot and reflect on what is really important. And I believe that this will have a significant positive impact on many people.

Dr. John Tomkowiak, founding dean, WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine:

In the new year, we will graduate our very first class of medical students, which means nearly 60 new MDs will be one step closer to serving patients in Washington and around the country, many in the rural and underserved places where access to care is needed most. As health care professionals and educators, we will continue to be guided by the words that have carried us for the past nine months: patience, persistence, inclusion, adaptability and grace. Together as a college, we will persevere, seek solutions and serve as the frontline of healing for the communities we serve.

All of us at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine are filled with optimism for the new year. While we will continue to face the very real challenges of COVID-19 and social injustice, the flexibility and innovation we experienced in response to these issues will influence many of the ways we educate our medical students, connect with patients and focus our research efforts in 2021 and beyond.

Lynn Kimball, Aging & Long Term Care of Eastern Washington executive director:

Aging & Long Term Care plans to continue responding in dynamic ways to all that 2021 holds and predicts that our community will continue forward with resilience.

Sherry Nash, Sacred Heart Medical Center neuroscience nurse manager:

My resolution for 2021 is to take an outside walk somewhere I have never been at least once a week with a friend, my canine buddies or both.

Adam Richards, Sacred Heart director of emergency services:

If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that I need to be nimble and prepare for the unexpected. So for 2021, my plan is to be flexible and open-minded and support new ways of doing business. And, as always, be kind, always give grace, even when that’s difficult.

Dr. Rebecca Mallo, Providence Health & Services division chief of medicine:

To be more present with my family – 2020 has been pretty chaotic and at times overwhelming, so I will focus on being present at home, enjoy the moments of joy with my kids and husband and not check email.

Marlo Andreoli, director of clinical logistics at Providence:

I am focusing more on self-care habits for my mental and physical wellness. This includes making better choices in fueling my body and enjoying the outdoors more.

My health predictions for the new year include seeing the demand for telehealth grow drastically. The ongoing pandemic has put pressure on our current health care systems, and I believe we will see more telehealth in home care pathways, especially for ambulatory and low acuity health care needs.

Dr. John McCarthy, assistant dean of Rural Programs, University of Washington School of Medicine in Spokane; NATIVE Project chief medical officer:

Resolution: To work toward health equity for all as we have seen the inequities unmasked with the pandemic. This necessitates personal investment and intentional change as well as an accounting of my personal privilege.

Outlook: The social determinants of health will be more clearly identified as integral to one’s health, and the inequities unmasked will be dealt with as this awareness becomes more clear. The changes here will be incremental whereas they need to be transcendental.

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