President and CEO of Carilion Clinic, Nancy Agee, reflects on 2021

Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 10:33 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - For those on the front lines, the year 2021 as it relates to COVID-19 may very well be remembered as the year of the vaccine.

President and CEO of Carilion Clinic Nancy Agee refers to it as a ‘modern miracle.’

“I remember when I was watching the vaccines come, the vaccines came with an armed guard, and we stood there and cried, and we thought, ‘this is it, we finally have a way that can save lives, protect our communities,’” remembers Agee.

It took several months for supply to catch up with the high demand, but as the months warmed up, access to the shot no longer was an issue. Cases were down, some restrictions even lifted. There was a bright spot.

That bright spot didn’t last long.

“You know, it’s been a really difficult year, no one could have ever imagined that we would be in a crisis state for 20 months, or now 24 months,” said Agee.

One year ago, an in-person interview with Agee couldn’t happen. To be able to have an in-person interview with her this year, masks were worn, vaccination status proven, and social distancing was observed. During a Zoom interview in March 2021, she said, “we did not appreciate that it would last as long as it did.”

Now, the new normal includes masking regardless of vaccination status, and ideas of what life with COVID will look like next year at this time, and the year after that.

“I think that the COVID virus will continue to be a viral disease and we’ll learn to live with it. It wont be as virulent. I’m not sure we’re on the other side of it yet,” said Agee.

That means decisions on protocols are constantly being evaluated.

Just a few weeks ago, Agee was named as a member of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s medical advisory committee. As cases continues to rise and hospitalizations are the highest they’ve been at any point in the pandemic, one of Youngkin’s executive orders involving choice with masking is receiving intense scrutiny.

“We’ve actually met a number of times already on the committee. The governor is very interested, genuinely curious about what’s going on with COVID, where we are, what can we do about that, so we’re having a lot of conversation about what’s going on right now,” said Agee.

The right now reality looks bleak, and health care workers feel the brunt of it.

“We are deep into this and people are really, really, really, really tired. I’m not even sure tired is the right word. They’re weary. If you’re tired you can go to bed and wake up the next morning refreshed. That’s not what we’re seeing,” said Agee.

While the pandemic is not over, and the messaging on safe practices, especially on the importance of vaccinations continues, Carilion saw many triumphs throughout last year.

The Ironman Race finally happened in June. Carilion Children’s in Tanglewood opened this past fall and work on the new Emergency Department and cancer treatment center continued, as did other various innovations, Agee hopes to see more of in 2022. She says in many ways COVID acted as a catalyst for change needed to make these things happen.

“I think we’re just gonna continue this pace of change that’s exciting, that’s innovative, transformative for our region. I’m very very excited about the future,” said Agee.

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