Privilege in the times of a pandemic

With everything going on in the world lately, it is easy to get caught up in it all and feel very overwhelmed. While everyone is experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic differently, it is undeniable that we are all being affected by it. However, as I work from home, sitting in the comfort of my apartment, I can’t help but think about the privilege I have simply by being able to do so, and my mind goes to my patients who don’t have that same privilege.

Many of the patients Pittsburgh Mercy serve make up parts of different vulnerable populations – those experiencing homelessness, those with mental health illnesses, those affected by the opioid crisis, those with chronic medical conditions, etc. Many of these patients also fall into the different categories of high-risk populations for the COVID-19 virus. However, not all of them have the security and protection needed during times like these. Not all of them have homes in which they can socially isolate. Not all of them have running water and soap to effectively wash their hands. Not all of them are able to go to the grocery store or take care of other essential needs because they have to take public transportation and do not feel comfortable doing so. Not all of them are able to keep their jobs and work from home – the businesses they work for are closed, and they are now facing financial struggles. Although Pittsburgh Mercy has taken measures to help these patients, I can’t help but feel that I’m not doing enough just by sitting on my couch.

I know my coworkers in our outreach program are going out on the street to test people for COVID-19 and bring portable hand-washing stations to camps around the area. I know the providers at the clinic are calling patients to have telehealth appointments, so that patients can still have their scheduled follow-ups without being at risk by coming into the office. I know our staff is working to constantly update our protocol and come up with strategic solutions to ensure the safety of both patients and employees. And I want to be there, on the front lines, helping where it’s most needed. But I know I can’t. And I know that although it doesn’t feel like much, sitting on my couch is the most beneficial thing I can do to help our patients at this time. By staying inside, I’m limiting the contact they have with others and lower their risk of getting sick. By staying inside, I’m able to talk to patients on the phone to ease their frustrations and anxieties surrounding the whole situation. By staying inside, I’m keeping myself safe so that I can continue to serve my patients. Though it may seem like such a small thing, staying home is the most important thing that I, and everyone, can do at this moment. And if that’s the privilege I have, I will gladly stay home to keep my patients safe.

This blog post was written by NHC member Celine Peksenar.

Celine serves at Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center as a Mobile Medical Unit Coordinator