In mid-March of 2020, while the rest of Saratoga was shutting down, Saratoga Hospital was preparing for war. While most Saratogians were huddled in their homes, fearing the spread of the invisible, highly contagious and potentially deadly COVID-19 virus, an army of doctors, nurses and staffers, led by Saratoga Hospital CEO and President Angelo Calbone, were gearing up for the fight of their lives. “It essentially turned quickly,” says Calbone. “We [had to] retool ourselves, focusing on what needed to be done and marshaling resources from one area to another. It was impressive how quickly and efficiently that happened inside our institution.”
In the months that followed, Saratoga Hospital staffers took things in stride, keeping a positive attitude, says Calbone, and doing their best work despite the heavy emotional strain. “From a leadership perspective, we were just all in,” Calbone says. “Most of our energy was focused on planning, improvising and making sure we had resources where we needed them.” The truly heroic work, though, was done by “the folks on the ground,” as he puts it—“the people taking care of patients at a personal level, and those that support our caregivers. They did spectacular work.”
Fast forward to this past spring, when the vaccine became widely available to the general public. There was a sense among hospital staffers that “we were going to get through this,” says Calbone. So it was a bitter pill to swallow when COVID case numbers began rising again, due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant coupled with people’s unwillingness to get vaccinated.
That latter issue—the unvaccinated—has become a political lightning rod, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that getting vaccinated not only protects people from getting COVID, but also significantly slows the virus’ spread and makes the potential side-effects from a breakthrough case less serious. To that end, this past August, Calbone announced that Saratoga Hospital would be requiring all staffers to either get vaccinated by early September or be forced to submit to weekly COVID tests. For those seeking to color the decision as a political one, he assures it was anything but. “We’ve had a whole series of vaccines that we’ve mandated as a condition of employment here for years,” says Calbone. “That has been a normal part of our operation.”
Looking forward, Calbone sees only one endgame, only one wish for 2022. “Wide adoption of the vaccine is our way out of this,” he says. “There’s no other better and more straightforward answer.”