Renown CEO Tony Slonim talks about the COVID-19 pandemic
Reno Gazette Journal
RENO, Nev. — When Dr. Jacob Keeperman tweeted a photo of himself Sunday afternoon at a Nevada hospital garage that serves as a COVID-19 care site, a social media frenzy involving the President Donald Trump was the last thing on his mind.
But that’s exactly what happened just two days later when President Donald Trump retweeted Keeperman’s photo on Tuesday morning while insinuating that the alternative care site at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, as well as the election results in Nevada, were “fake.”
For Keeperman, it was akin to a baptism of fire. The doctor just recently moved to Reno after 15 years in St. Louis.
Just because Keeperman was in a new city, however, did not make dealing with COVID-19 any easier. After putting in his first week at Renown’s COVID intensive care unit, Keeperman — the executive director of the hospital’s transfer and operations center — decided to give his colleagues some well-deserved recognition for their hard work.
Dr. Jacob Keeperman, executive medical director of the Renown Transfer and Operations Center. (Photo: Renown Health)
Keeperman ended up using an earlier picture of himself that he took at the parking garage site just before it was activated in November. The site underwent $11 million worth of improvements earlier this year in order to accommodate less serious COVID patients should the community see a surge in cases that could potentially overwhelm regular hospital capacity.
Keeperman wrote a message thanking “all the incredible staff” who were fighting the good fight against the pandemic and tapped the send icon on his Twitter app.
“I sent that tweet out to recognize all of my teammates coming to work everyday to … provide care to each and every person,” Keeperman said. “I never thought it would (end up being) anything like this.”
‘I just wanted to recognize and thank them’
The next day, Keeperman’s tweet garnered attention from the state’s highest office. Gov. Steve Sisolak shared Keeperman’s tweet, thanking the doctor as well as all the physicians, nurses and first responders working the front lines of the pandemic.
Two hours later, the Twitter account of a Las Vegas website jumped on Sisolak’s retweet and Keeperman’s photo in particular, pointing out the lack of patients in the image. Without any additional proof, the site called the deployable medical structure “the fake Nevada parking garage hospital” and claimed it was a multimillion-dollar scam that has never seen a single patient.
By Tuesday morning, the deceptive tweet reached the highest office of the land. Trump shared the tweet while adding, “Fake election results in Nevada, also!”
A tweet that Keeperman originally made to thank his colleagues for their hard work ended up in the middle of a social media frenzy as Trump’s retweet garnered more than 25,300 retweets of its own by 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time.
Trump’s retweet quickly earned the ire of Sisolak, who called on all leaders in the state, regardless of political affiliation, to condemn the president.
“His consistent misleading rhetoric on COVID-19 is dangerous and reckless, and today’s implication that Renown’s alternate care site is a ‘fake hospital’ is among the worst examples we’ve seen,” Sisolak said. “
On Tuesday afternoon, a tired-looking Keeperman just wanted to put the whole social media frenzy behind him and focus on his job — and his team.
Back-up hospital beds are seen in the parking garage at the Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno on Nov. 11, 2020. (Photo: JASON BEAN)
While doctors have been getting a lot of recognition, there’s a whole slew of healthcare workers that don’t get enough credit for the work that they do during these trying times, according to Keeperman. These include nurses, respiratory therapists, lab technicians, environmental services staff, radiology technicians, occupational therapists and countless other groups who are essential to providing care to each and every patient, he said.
“I just wanted to recognize and thank them and let them know that we’re all in this together,” he said.
Keeperman also addressed comments claiming that his photo of the parking garage with no patients and equipment still wrapped up was proof that the alternative care site was fake. The doctor pointed to healthcare laws as well as the timing of the photo, which was taken right before the opening of the parking garage unit. Keeperman added that he purposefully picked a spot in the hospital that did not have any patients
“I took that picture before we opened our alternative care site, just before the first person got there (in the garage) several minutes after I took the picture. And of course, you wouldn’t want a patient in that picture. It’s not fair to them, let alone not being in compliance with HIPAA and privacy laws,” Keeperman said.
‘This is reality’
The daily reality for those on the front lines of the pandemic is “devastating,” Keeperman said.
“It’s devastating when you’re holding the hand of a patient taking their last breath, then having to call their family and letting them know that their loved one has passed away and they’re never coming home again,” Keeperman said. “Then you remember that there’s another patient in the next room who also needs your help.”
Even for those who are fortunate enough to survive COVID’s grasp, questions remain about the potential long-term effects on the human body, Keeperman said.
“We want to take care of each and every patient with COVID or who suffers a stroke, heart attack or traumatic accident but resources are finite,” Keeperman said. “The whole healthcare system is heading toward the breaking point.”
While Renown moved quickly to set up its garage site to add capacity, such efforts also have their limits. The reliance on portable oxygen units, for example, limits the type of patients that can receive care at the deployable medical structure. Adding beds also does not matter if there isn’t enough staff to oversee them.
“(Healthcare workers) are getting sick and we need to protect our workforce so they can come in and protect you,” Keeperman said.
He added, “Like everyone else, we are tired and we are worn down. We would love for this to be over. We would love for all of this to have been fake but, unfortunately, it’s not. It’s reality. And we are living it every day and still trying to go on taking care of patients so they don’t have to suffer. Healthcare is not about a political issue. It’s not a partisan issue.”
In the meantime, Keeperman says he has no immediate plans with social media after what happened Tuesday.
“I don’t know,” Keeperman said. “I might have to avoid Twitter.”
Follow Jason Hidalgo on Twitter: @jasonhidalgo.
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