Q&A with Lesley Heckaman: The Importance of Continuing to Follow Safety Protocols

With vaccinations and a waning number of COVID-19 cases in some areas, it may seem like things are starting to relax a bit. However, safety protocols are just as important as ever. That’s why we talked with Lesley Heckaman, system director of employee health, about the importance of continuing to adhere to all safety protocols, including those pertaining to COVID-19. Please keep reading to learn more.

What are the most important reasons that medical providers should adhere to safety protocols?

Safety is our No. 1 priority. It is extremely important that we follow all safety measures as a means of protecting our patients, their loved ones, our communities and all those we are called to serve. During this public health emergency, we all need to remain vigilant and cannot let down our defenses.

What are some reasons that safety protocols may get neglected?

With the delta variant of COVID-19, the infection is still problematic and especially dangerous for the unvaccinated. I think because some safety protocols, such as masking, social distancing and other precautions, have been relaxed within many of our communities, it’s sometimes easy to let down our guard. We cannot forget that COVID-19 does not play favorites, and although the vaccine is our best protection from COVID-19, we must remain steadfast in our fight by adhering to all safety precautions.

How do we prevent exposures?

High-risk exposures are our biggest challenge. For example, an exposure can happen when two team members remove masks to eat together and sit closer than six feet together, and we later find out one has COVID. Most of us truly like to socialize with our friends and loved ones. For instance, team members like eating together and that’s an area of vulnerability for us right now.

As we know, exposures can present a large risk to our team members, as well as our patients. A high-risk exposure can turn into a very serious and widespread outbreak of the virus. The most effective way to prevent exposures is by wearing PPE, social distancing, handwashing and getting vaccinated for protection from COVID-19 and seasonal flu. When we learn of high-risk exposures, we work diligently to investigate, as needed, and to require testing to further prevent and contain the spread of the virus.

What would you say to someone who is hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19?

We are very grateful for the high percentage of vaccinated team members in our health system now. At the end of the day, the COVID vaccines are our hope and they’ve certainly changed the dynamics of the numbers of people presenting to the hospitals. We can see that it’s working, which is so rewarding. In August when Pfizer received full authorization from the FDA, that was extremely encouraging. We are also waiting for approvals on Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccinations.

I have multiple sclerosis (MS), and getting the COVID vaccine was a decision I struggled with because I was concerned that getting vaccinated would push me into a flare-up. My doctor said that getting COVID and being hospitalized were much greater risks to my health condition than getting vaccinated. So, any temporary flare-up I might have had by receiving the vaccine was far less risky than being hospitalized. After a great deal of thought and a lot of prayer, I got the vaccine, and I didn’t have any issues at all!

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Our team members are amazing. They are all individual heroes who make such a difference in the many lives we have the privilege to touch. What I love about Baptist is all of us play such an important part in supporting our mission.

Everybody has worked so incredibly hard during this pandemic. It’s so gratifying to see the amount of teamwork and the determination to serve and save our patients, regardless of where we work or what we do each day. I’m thankful that I’m in this role. I am especially proud of the many contributions our Employee Health team has made across the system. And I’m so thankful for the hundreds of employees that we have had the privilege of serving and supporting throughout these most difficult times.