2020 Difference Makers: Dr. Gretchen Price

Dr. Gretchen Price
Aaron Eisenhower ~ B Magazine

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"God is within her, she will not fail." -- Psalm 46:5

It's the verse that helped Dr. Gretchen Price, DO, develop a comprehensive hospital response to COVID-19.

Before the novel coronavirus pandemic even reached the Cape Girardeau community, Price was instrumental in creating a proactive plan for Saint Francis Healthcare to care for patients.

As a hospitalist for the past five years at Saint Francis, Price has overseen patient care from admittance to discharge, especially focusing her work in the Intensive Care Unit. Her time in the ICU led to her innovation in developing the plan for the COVID Care Unit, the area designated in Saint Francis Medical Center to treat specifically COVID-19 patients.

In the weeks leading up to the first COVID-19 cases in the region, area hospitals began looking at front line plans to respond to the virus. While working in the ICU, Price recognized the unit's capacity to support ventilators in patient rooms. This was unique from the rest of the hospital and indicated that a COVID unit might be possible. She surveyed the floor layout and hospital design, taking note of the smallest details.

Halfway through that week, she submitted a six-page proposal to hospital administrators, highlighting a detailed plan for a hospital unit that would support COVID care in the Southeast Missouri region. She even included sleeping areas for quarantined health care workers in case of infection so they would not spread COVID-19 to anyone outside of the hospital.

As the health care workers at Saint Francis saw hospitals understaffed and overwhelmed in other parts of the country, Price said it was important to her to think of employees as well as patients. As physicians and nurses faced 14-day self-isolation and positive COVID-19 results, she wanted to avoid any further spread in the hospital community and strain on hospital staffing. She said she was specifically concerned about health care workers bringing COVID-19 home to their families, which factored into her design plan.

While Price said this was the most stressful time in her life, she showed courage and innovation to develop the proactive plan. Her mother gave her a coffee mug last Christmas with the Bible verse Psalm 46:5; she said it's what has encouraged her ever since. She said that through this difficult time, she's been especially proud of the ways her co-workers and others have stepped up to help others.

"It's really amazing to see people have the courage to respond to something they don't know," Price said.

She highlighted that the past four months have been a rapidly changing time in her life as well as others. She said that it has taught her that nothing can be accomplished alone, that survival depends on leaning on each other. Sometimes it means allowing others to help her with things she'd like to do herself and just letting people in her life more.

The other part of it, she said, is that she's witnessed the pandemic has taken an emotional toll on many people. Her partners in the emergency room have seen an increase in mental health-related visits, something that Price has said she's been concerned about. When dealing with a situation such as this, Price said it's important to keep the perspective that "we're all just people here" -- there's always ways to get help. It's something she'd like to highlight more and believes should be included in the discussion surrounding COVID-19.

Price's thorough planning and dedication to patient care at Saint Francis helped to care for the community, as well as ensure the safety of employees and their families. None of the physicians staffing the COVID Care Unit have tested positive for the virus, Price said, despite the numerous patients they've assisted.