COLORADO SPRINGS — Veterans have fought for our freedom, and some never stopped serving, finding themselves on the frontline of this pandemic.
Physician's Assistant Matt Bershinsky has been working in the pediatric orthopedics unit at Children's Hospital in Colorado Springs for almost a decade. His military career started in 1989, and he's currently in the Air Force Reserves. He says it is his honor to serve.
In the spring of this year, the country was experiencing the severe impacts of coronavirus. "At that point, the health care system in New York City was unable to deal with the volume of very sick people that were coming in, so they called for help... A combination of 1,100 airmen, soldiers, sailors, marines, all gathered together in New York City in early April to bring some relief to that city," said Bershinsky.
Military members who went to New York City stood up a large field hospital at the Javits Convention Center that was primarily run by army assets. Other people split off among hospitals, which served the most at-risk populations. "Before the pandemic, [these hospitals] were struggling to make ends meet, and struggling to take care of a very sick population with confined resources. So when you add on the pandemic, they became overwhelmed very quickly," said Bershinsky.
He went with a team of people to a hospital in the Bronx. "They had over a hundred patients more than the hospital was designed to hold, they had six times more ventilators running than they were capable of handling at that point, and so we came in simply to do our part to ease the burden on them," said Bershinsky.
Unfortunately, when Bershinsky first arrived at the hospital, the realities of the virus had struck the health care workers. "One of their nurses passed away from COVID-19 on the day we got there. So, they were mentally and emotionally pretty down, as well as just being physically overwhelmed by the number of patients," Bershinsky explained.
This year, Bershinsky said similarities between the military and health care industry have become apparent. "They are both being asked to perform a mission of critical national security, critical to our way of life, but it comes with great risk of personal harm," said Bershinsky.
He said since the spring, the country has advanced in their treatment of the virus. But when he was in New York City "we were fighting an enemy that we didn't understand, we were fighting an enemy we couldn't see, and we were fighting to save the lives of people that we didn't know but we felt deeply connected to because they were struggling without their families, without their friends. They were there by themselves, the only human connection they had were the health care providers who were in that room."
Despite the feeling of helplessness, Bershinsky said the determination of all those working to fight the virus was tangible. "The only way we're going to win this is by everybody working in the same direction," said Bershinsky.
As we grow tired of the virus, Bershinsky hopes we remember those patients he will never forget. "Our country was not formed in times of ease. The civil rights movement did not come about from times of ease and peace, it came about through times of struggle and hardship. And we seem as a country to always come back better on the other side of these times, and this will be no different," said Bershinsky.
He said the best way to help be a part of the fight against the virus is to continue practicing public health guidelines. "If you take care of yourself, you protect yourself and your family to the best of your ability, that's the part that you can do," said Bershinsky.
Bershinsky is not the only veteran working in health care. Over one hundred Southern Colorado Children's Hospital team members are veterans, with one in every five patients coming from a military family.