An ER doctor and elected official, Sharon Meieran balances two roles during coronavirus crisis
Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran remembers serving on the front lines of a pandemic, working as an emergency room physician during the H1N1 influenza outbreak 10 years ago. As both a physician and an elected official, Meieran wears two hats through this current crisis, and Street Roots spoke with her online to get her perspective on dealing with the pandemic at hand.
Joanne Zuhl: The emergency room at any hospital is already a charged arena, but add on to it increased burdens on health care staff and elevated levels of stress and fear, and it's a different job entirely. What does your background tell you about what mental impact this has on people who are already medically vulnerable?
Sharon Meieran: This is having a tremendous impact on the mental state of everyone in our community but especially those who are particularly vulnerable. It is hard enough to be worried about where you're going to live; getting a roof over your head; finding a place to stay; where is your next meal going to come from; trying to manage other vulnerabilities like physical illness, mental health issues, substance use disorder. And throwing the stress and uncertainty of this virus on top of all of that is going to have a huge impact.
And it's twofold. It's people worrying that they're sick, people worrying if they're going to get sick from the folks around you, and then stress. Stress is never good for you. But that added stress just exacerbates underlying mental health issues or whatever else someone has.
It is really tough for the front-line health care community right now. We're facing shortages of personal protective equipment. Front line workers are going home to their families and worried about transmitting this. And trying to just do the basic job of caring for people and supporting them in this situation of uncertainty and scarcity of some basic protective gear, and this is really impacting that well-being and mental health of health care workers as well.
(Meieran is working with the personal protection equipment donation group to help collect donations of equipment for health care providers. Scroll to the end of the article for information.)
Zuhl: Emergency rooms are also often the place of last resort for people with no health care coverage or money. This pandemic and the actions involved seem to amplify what it means to be that fragile. What, if any, light do you think this event sheds on our health care system?
Meieran: Some time will tell, because there is such an inundation and there is going to be such an overwhelming use of the hospital facilities that it's going to be hard to separate who's who within that.
I think where that might play out is in discharging people who are homeless to shelters. Where do these people go from the hospital? I think that's going to be a really important aspect of this to be following. Because I don't think we have nearly the resources we need, and I think that situation is really going to be exacerbated and we'll need to be following that.
This Street Roots story was shared as part of a local media project to provide COVID-19 virus coverage.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.