SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – For some, it’s hard to believe it’s been one year since Florida’s first COVID-19 case. The patient was admitted to Doctors Hospital of Sarasota nearly one week before physicians learned he was COVID-positive.
At that time in late February 2020, fewer than 100 people in the United States were confirmed positive for COVID-19 with most contracting the virus overseas, but Florida’s first patient had no travel history or contact with anyone who did.
The healthcare heroes at the hospital say the last year has been grueling and emotional, but looking back at where they started, they’re proud to say they’ve come a long way.
“Certainly in Florida, I did not think we were going to have the first COVID patient here, so here we were, scrambling to decide what we do, where do we go, what do we have to do,” said the hospital’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Schandorf-Lartey remembers the feeling of shock learning his patient’s test results came back positive for a virus he knew little about.
“This thing came out of nowhere seemingly and took us all by surprise. The things that physicians pride themselves on is knowing what to do for the patient and having the skill and expertise to do it,” said Dr. Schandorf-Lartey. “This thing proved us kind of lacking in that respect in that we didn’t know much about it and didn’t know how to deal with it to start with,” he explained.
The Chief Medical Officer admits the emotional aspect of the pandemic was challenging for him on a personal level.
“There is a picture that is burned in my memory. I don’t think I will ever get rid of it 20 or 30 years down the line when I remember this year… That picture of loved ones sitting outside the glass window or door looking at their family struggling for their lives, that takes a big toll on you emotionally. We try to deal with it, we don’t talk about it,” Dr. Schandorf-Lartey said.
As the months continued on, things got better. Treatment and testing improved along with patient outcomes.
“Over time, we learned so much and we have been communicated with so well that it has become our norm and we are used to it now,” said ICU nurse Jamie Florio. “We came to this field to help patients and we have continued to do so throughout the pandemic. We are scared for our family at home, but the patients are in the hospitals without their family, so we certainly try to become that for them,” she continued.
Officials with the hospital say they’ve worked nonstop to help keep patients and staff safe throughout the pandemic.
“Fortunately, we have not, in the year, had a single staff member that contracted COVID while working. We have had some that got COVID in the community; that was expected, but we have not had anybody contract the virus while they were working,” said Chief Nursing Officer Todd Haner. “That has been very fortunate and I hope that continues,” he said.
Nurses say the vaccine rollout gives them hope looking ahead.
“The vaccine is like the light at the end of the tunnel for me and for I’m sure other nurses. I am relieved as the vaccines get rolled out. The hope is that more and more people get vaccinated and we will fully begin to see an end to this,” nurse Jamie Florio said.