'Really moving': Digital collection chronicles COVID-19 response at San Juan Regional Medical Center

'Our COVID Diary' website includes stories, photos, videos, podcasts

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • President and CEO Jeff Bourgeois says there is something for everyone on the website.
  • It includes a lengthy video that chronicles how the institution has handled the pandemic.
  • The hospital has seen an exponential increase in the number of COVID-19 patients in its ICU this month.

FARMINGTON — The marketing department at the San Juan Regional Medical Center didn't necessarily set out to create a comprehensive record of the hospital's response to the COVID-19 pandemic when it began chronicling the efforts of caregivers to battle the virus, president and CEO Jeff Bourgeois says.

But a year and a half later, that seems to be what the hospital wound up with.

The institution recently launched a new website called "Our COVID Journal" that serves as a record of the challenges caregivers have faced since the spring of 2020, when the virus turned up in San Juan County, and how they have risen to that challenge.

"No one knew what we were getting into at the beginning of this project," Bourgeois said. "But we felt it was important to capture what was going on with our staff and our community."

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A nurse checks a monitor on the COVID floor at San Juan Regional Medical Center in this image from the institution's "Our COVID Journal" webiste.

"Our COVID Journey," which can be found at sanjuanregional.com/covid-journal, is a collection of stories, photos, videos, podcasts and, soon, a photo gallery that charts the hospital's response to the pandemic from a variety of perspectives. It includes a lengthy video that chronicles how the institution has handled the pandemic, beginning with its preparations that began several weeks before the first case was recorded in San Juan County.

Bourgeois said there is something for everyone in the diary, and he encourages county residents to spend some time going through it.

"There's so much that, to me, is really moving," he said, noting that the diary does an excellent of illustrating how heartbreaking it was for families of COVID-19 victims to be separated from their loved ones as they fought for their lives because of the danger of contagion. In most cases, he said, those family members never got to say goodbye to those who succumbed to the virus, something that has left deep scars throughout the community.

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FMN Jeff Bourgeois

Those scars extended beyond the friends and family members of COVID victims, he said, pointing to the emotional toll the ravages of the virus have taken on ICU nurses at San Juan Regional.

"ICU nurses are tough and resilient and used to dealing with the sickest patients in the hospital," he said. "But this thing was an entirely different level. It put a level of stress on front-line caregivers that they had never seen or that I had seen myself."

While there have been reprieves from the battle as the severity of pandemic has ebbed periodically, Bourgeois noted that the stress continues for many of those caregivers at the hospital a year and a half later, even though the public largely has moved on.

"Our COVID Journal," a comprehensive look at how San Juan Regional Medical Center has responded to the challenge of COVID-19, includes stories, photos, videos and podcasts, with many of those elements reflecting the perspectives of front-line workers.

"The length and duration of this thing is really taxing to every individual in this organization," he said. "We didn't ask for this."

At the beginning of August, Bourgeois said, the hospital only had three COVID patients in its ICU . But with the spread of the Delta variant, that number on Aug. 24 had swelled to 39, he said, a strong indication that the pandemic is far from over in San Juan County.

"The spread of that increase has been alarming and similar to what is happening statewide," he said.

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Bourgeois noted that at the beginning of the pandemic, community members responded well to the situation, often joining forces with hospital staffers to find creative solutions to problems such as a lack of personal protective equipment. They treated nurses, doctors and other caregivers like heroes, showering them with expressions of appreciation on a regular basis.

But a new element has emerged in the community in recent months, Bourgeois said, one he finds deeply disturbing. He said he learned that three caregivers, fresh off another demanding and lengthy shift at the hospital, recently were verbally harassed by members of the community who saw them in their scrubs and PPE, and blamed them for the implementation of a mask mandate.

Jeff Bourgeois of San Juan Regional Medical Center is asking residents to rally around the hospital's caregivers these days the way they did in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There's simply no call for that kind of behavior toward those who have worked so hard and so long to care for other people, he said.

"We need to lift these people up more than ever," he said.

Bourgeois acknowledged that the demands and pressures of the last year and a half have caused problems for everyone, not just those in the health-care field.

"There is a large portion of our community where there's a certain level of COVID fatigue," he said. "People are lashing out unfairly in anger at each other and at what we continue to see."

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San Juan Regional Medical Center CEO Jeff Bourgeois says the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a sizable emotional toll on his caregivers, a condition that is chronicled in the hospital's "Our COVID Journey" website.

But he implored community members to recognize the good work being done by health-care workers and not to take their frustrations out on people who have performed so admirably.

"I'm sure these were isolated examples," he said. "But to a caregiver coming off a long shift … it's morally defeating to an individual in that situation. I ask our community to rally around these caregivers again like we did in the spring of 2020 when this thing was just getting started."

The hospital had planned a large, daylong event in September to celebrate the work of those caregivers and recognize them for their contributions, Bourgeois said. But the recent surge in cases has caused the institution to postpone that event, he said — yet another disappointing development in the battle to control the spread of the virus.

The number of COVID patients in the intensive care unit at San Juan Regional Medical Center has increased sharply this month, CEO Jeff Bourgeois says, ratcheting up the pressure on caregivers again.

To gain a better understanding of what the pandemic has been like for health-care workers, Bourgeois believes "Our COVID Journal" is a good place to start. He said new material is likely to be added to the website as time goes by, and the website will remain up for at least the duration of the pandemic.

"I hope it sheds some light on the great work our caregivers are doing," he said.

Bourgeois looks forward to a day when the pandemic is under control and he can go back and examine "Our COVID Diary" at some degree of leisure in search of deeper lessons.

"As we get this behind us and are able to look back in time, I'm sure myself and other people might take the occasion to look back at this and reflect on what we've accomplished here with a sense of pride," he said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.