Talia’s Voice During the 2020 Pandemic

“As a physician, I learned from caring for patients for years that when a loved one dies, it’s a tragedy; but when your loved one dies and you know that death could have been prevented, that’s a tragedy that haunts you forever.”

Dr. Howard Koh, former Assistant Public Health Officer and Harvard physician, spoke these words recently while being interviewed on NPR about the coronavirus pandemic. And we concur: We remain haunted by Talia’s preventable death. What’s terribly upsetting about the coronavirus pandemic is the number of preventable deaths it has caused already, with many more yet to come. People often find it shocking to learn that medical error leads to over 250,000 patient deaths every year. Given the total lack of national leadership in handling the pandemic, we will now be doubling the number of unnecessary deaths in the year 2020. It is mind boggling trying to comprehend numbers this large—nearly half a million preventable deaths!—and our hearts break knowing that too many families all across America are now, like us, going to lead “lives that are haunted forever.”

Even if neither you nor a loved one has become ill from Covid-19, each and every one of us feels its impact. And that is true for us here at Talia’s Voice, too. So much of our value as public speakers is the impact of our being present, in person—and that obviously came to a halt when our April, May, June, August and October speaking engagements were canceled due to the pandemic. Our work involves pushing doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers to think deeply about the ways they communicate and practice medicine. We are always constructive in our criticism, but right now it feels most appropriate to support all our frontline healthcare workers, who have been working in outrageous, unsafe conditions throughout this entire pandemic.

Given the realities of the times and the external forces at work in 2020, we—like many people—have been forced to reassess how best to carry on with our work in this environment. Here are some recent highlights. 

While our in-person speaking engagements evaporated, we have begun to make the switch to the virtual world. We represent the patient and family voice, and as such we presented at a webinar earlier this month, and will participate in another in December. We will again return to the University of Washington as guest lecturers in January, this time virtually. We have also renewed our commitment to raising awareness of institutional racism and bias within healthcare.

Our committee work at the Collaborative for Accountability and Improvement (CAI) continues. In particular, we are excited about the work we are doing as members of the Patient and Family Advocate Committee. Separately, Jeff was recently appointed by Governor Kate Brown to the Oregon Task Force on Resolution of Adverse Healthcare Incidents as the Patient Safety Advocate.

We also participated in multiple research projects this past summer and fall, which primarily focussed on improving communication between providers and patients, and we are now advising a UW student who received a grant to develop a communication tool for students who shadow physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.

We will expand on these projects, and more, in upcoming posts. In the meantime, to protect all healthcare providers who are putting their lives on the line for us, please wear your masks and maintain physical distance.

Wishing you a healthy December,

Naomi and Jeff

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