Health care heroes: family matters

Dr. Chad Friend realized the importance of having loved ones around during times of illness, and he tried to keep patients' families connected. Photo by Bryan Esler

Editor’s note: This is part six of a nine-part series on health care employees working during the COVID-19 pandemic. To read more stories, click here.

Almost anyone who was admitted to Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Hospital with COVID-19 saw Dr. Chad Friend or a member of his team of hospitalists — doctors who care for those in the hospital.

In spring 2020, Friend had just under 50 active COVID-19 patients in the hospital; by the fall/winter, that number peaked at just under 90 at one time. By the latest count, the hospital has had a total of about 970 COVID-19 admissions thus far with a mortality rate of those admitted at around 8%. At one point, Friend and his team had 160 patients receiving hospitalist care, about 30% higher than normal.

“We knew a tidal wave was building and knew it would fall on us,” Friend said. “We prepared as best we could, knowing we were going to be on the frontlines. We just didn’t know how big the crisis would be.”

It was scary, he said, to see people come into the hospital and not know how to care for them. “It was the most helpless time in my career. Patients would get worse quickly, and I didn’t feel like I had any tools at my disposal except time and oxygen,” Friend recalled.

He now points to the addition of certain steroids and the anti-viral drug Remdesivir as helpful treatments. “But we were flying blind (at the beginning),” he said.

“We prepared as best we could, knowing we were going to be on the frontlines. We just didn’t know how big the crisis would be.”
Dr. chad friend

After a year of the pandemic, his work as a COVID-19 frontline worker has changed the way he practices medicine. “The crisis has helped reinforce how important it is to have loved ones around when a person isn’t feeling well. It gave me a new appreciation of the importance of family in the care of patients,” said Friend, who worked hard at calling families himself to provide updates and keep everyone on the same page. “A hospital can strive to focus on the patient and the family and the psychosocial aspects of that care.”

The COVID-19 crisis also impacted the way he looks at and lives his life. “I take everything day by day and am thankful for every day,” said Friend, who grew up in Jackson and attended GVSU and Michigan State. “I lean on faith during this time, giving up some of the fear to a higher power. Our minds can only understand so much.”

He makes a point to exercise, running 5 miles almost daily, and leaned on friends and family by phone and Zoom. He also was proactive in getting counseling to process the many stresses related to the pandemic, including quarantining away from his wife and three young children at the beginning of the crisis.

Friend has nothing but positive things to say about Saint Mary’s. “I love that they let me be a doctor and take care of my patients. They cared so much about protecting employees, getting everything we needed to stay safe,” he said. “The infectious disease team did a fantastic job securing PPE; we got low at times, but never ran out.”

This story can be found in the May 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here

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