People ‘brought down’ by COVID, health official says

Dr. Lillian Ney, a member of the Chautauqua County Board of Health, recently spoke with the League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County via Zoom videoconferencing about the changes of the health-care system since the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on health-care workers.

“I don’t think we as a population have given enough thanks and credit to the healthcare workers,” Ney said.

Ney is a retired Vice President of Medical Affairs and Medical Director at WCA Hospital. She received a doctorate in medicine from the University at Buffalo. She completed her internship, medical residency and cardiology fellowship at Buffalo General Hospital.

As a Board of Health member, Ney had an up-close view on how the medical profession was impacted during the pandemic.

“A lot of the regulations were confusing. … It was not an easy time,” Ney said, noting the inconsistency of the constantly evolving rules and regulations throughout the pandemic.

“Public health and politics don’t mix,” Ney said. “… It’s very unfortunate for people in the healthcare professions.”

Ney highlighted how a grant for encouraging vaccinations was turned down. “That was a real blow to the healthcare department,” she said.

Currently, COVID is not the only issue healthcare professionals are tasked with addressing. Ney highlighted RSV and influenza, but noted, “Right now things don’t look too bad,” in terms of hospitalizations in the county.

What Ney characterized as a bigger concern is the long-term effects of COVID. “What worries me the most … is long COVID,” Ney said. “Long COVID is a real problem. … Every system in the body can be affected.”

A technological example Ney highlighted during the pandemic was how wastewater treatment facilities in Dunkirk and Jamestown tested the water for COVID, which helped signal the prevalence of the disease in the area. However, because of the fears many had that the disease could be traced back to them through testing – which Ney said was not true — many people were not well informed on the processes being used. That uncertainty led to unnecessary fears with the testing process.

“Lack of knowledge needs to be addressed by the health department,” Ney said.

Ney highlighted her concern both locally and on a national level with a shortage of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. She noted that recruitment is a struggle and cited how many workers in New York City went on strike because of the pandemic. Ney believes it was not strictly a financial decision, but it was also about being overworked.

But since the pandemic, the need for health-care workers is as clear as ever, not just for treatment of the disease itself, but for mental health issues the pandemic caused or intensified.

“People have changed after COVID,” Ney said. “Even if you didn’t lose your job, even if you didn’t have someone in your family who passed away … people have really been brought down.”

Ney noted test scores and depression as many of the factors to measure how negatively people have been impacted by the pandemic in ways other than just those directly impacted by the virus. “It takes a long time to get over things like this,” Ney said.

Locally, the county’s Public Health and Social Services departments have been broken up into two different departments. Christine Schuyler previously headed up both departments for the past 11 years, but will not lead either of the new departments. Ney called her departure, “a big loss.”

In December, Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel tapped Dr. Michael Faulk to lead the county’s Public Health Department and Carmelo Hernandez to become the director of the Department of Mental Hygiene and Social Services

“There will certainly be change,” Ney said.


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