A view of the hospital exterior on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022 at Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw. (Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com)Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com
SAGINAW, MI — If a picture is worth 1,000 words, Michael Sullivan hopes the right people are paying attention to his hospital’s Facebook page.
Sullivan, chief medical officer at Covenant HealthCare, for the last year witnessed first-hand how the COVID-19 vaccines drastically reduced the chances people would suffer severe illness and death. His evidence: The overwhelming majority of patients suffering the gravest symptoms are unvaccinated.
It’s evidence he’s been sharing with the community as more unvaccinated patients roll in through Covenant and too often move next to the morgue. In Saginaw County, 824 residents have died from COVID-19, with the majority of those fatalities occurring during months when the vaccine was available. Yet nearly half of Saginaw County’s population — 48.4%, to be precise — remains unvaccinated.
But Covenant officials recently added a new strategy for communicating the effectiveness of the vaccines, and the messaging seems to be received with wide-reaching clarity.
Earlier this month, the organization’s social media team uploaded onto Covenant’s Facebook page a visual graphic that showed how many COVID-19 patients at the hospital were unvaccinated that morning, including the severity of those individuals’ circumstances.
The post was shared more than 800 times within a week, generating a response that exceeded the expectations of the hospital’s communications team. Now they plan to upload an updated version of that infographic each Thursday for the foreseeable future, showing the day’s statistics.
Sullivan and other hospital officials hope the weekly upload will boost public awareness about how the vaccine — or the lack of it — impacts Covenant’s COVID-19 patient caseload.
“It’s one thing to get up in front of somebody and say, ‘Your risk of a serious illness and death are reduced,’ but it’s another thing to be able to show somebody a picture that makes them realize, ‘Oh my God, 0% of people on ventilators were vaccinated today,’” Sullivan said.
“That tells a story. It’s a powerful story, and we hope that will help get the word out.”
The Facebook-uploaded infographic features generic person-shaped cutouts. Each cutout represents a COVID-19 patient housed at Covenant that morning. The color of the cutout represents that person’s vaccinated status. Grey means unvaccinated; maroon symbolizes the vaccinated.
The illustration showcases the ratio of vaccinated-to-unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in three categories:
As the most-recent infographic showed on Thursday, Jan. 27:
Covenant’s analytics manager, Ken Arnold, knows these numbers, backwards and forwards. His job involves collecting, organizing, updating, and distributing patient data largely for internal use among hospital staff. Throughout the pandemic, that work has been critical to helping Covenant’s doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists understand a deadly virus that didn’t exist in Michigan until two years ago.
Despite Arnold’s intense familiarity with the statistics, seeing the data displayed in an illustrated form made an impression on him.
“Even for me, that format was way more powerful,” he said.
“That’s the whole point of data visualization, though, right? To provide insight into numbers that don’t require someone looking at a big table of data and trying to calculate the numbers in their head. I hope people will look at this data visualization and see what it’s telling them.”
Covenant isn’t the first medical center to share its statistics in an illustrated form on social media, and those infographics showed the same level of impact from the vaccine. Those facilities’ uploads also resonated with social media audiences, resulting in high volumes of followers sharing the information on their personal social media pages.
Arnold said he hoped Covenant’s infographics would continue to catch on with residents here. While the hospital is located 1 mile west of downtown Saginaw, Covenant’s sizable urgent care resources attract residents from 20 counties across mid-Michigan.
The question now is: Will the hospital’s Facebook campaign convince the unvaccinated to seek the vaccines?
Both Arnold and Sullivan understand there remains a group of people entrenched in their rejection of the vaccine.
Many individuals belonging to that demographic, in fact, arrived at that position because of content shared on social media. The problem, as public health officials point out: Much of the anti-vaccine movement’s recent momentum was gained online by noncredible or altogether anonymous sources sharing misleading or false information, often cast in a political or religious light. The result: People so hardened in their stances that they reject vaccine information provided by the same medical professionals they seek when suffering from COVID-19 and its most severe symptoms.
Morning Consult, a survey group with headquarters across the the nation, earlier this month released results of a poll that revealed 20% of United States residents were “unwilling” to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Of the countries surveyed, only Russia outpaced the U.S. in that category.
“Our infographic is not going to convince someone who is politically against the vaccine or who is an anti-vaxxer,” Sullivan said. “They have their ideas and their beliefs, and that’s OK. But there is a significant number of people out there who are still trying to take in all the information. Those are the people we’re trying to reach the most; to maybe give them that one extra piece of information they were looking for.”
The Morning Consult survey revealed 8% of U.S. residents were “uncertain” if they would seek a vaccine; 6% of those polled indicated they planned to get vaccinated.
These are groups with individuals who sometimes indicate their intention to “do the research” before making a decision. Sullivan, though, said Covenant’s weekly Facebook infographic doesn’t represent “research” to hospital staff.
“This is real life,” he said. “This is what’s happening in here, right now.”
Covenant’s workforce remains stretched thin, and at an inopportune time. Since December, the highly-contagious COVID-19 variant known as omicron created a surge in the number of patients there. The region’s deteriorating public health was critical enough last month to convince the U.S. Department of Defense to deploy a 22-member U.S. Army medical response unit to assist the hospital’s civilian workforce. That mission, though, is scheduled to end in mid-February.
Both the civilian and military medical staff at Covenant continue to treat unvaccinated patients. Sullivan said he hopes the Facebook-uploaded infographic will help the public understand many of those patients likely wouldn’t need treatment if they were vaccinated.
“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard stories from people who get the vaccine after a family member was in the hospital, because seeing that made it real to them,” Sullivan said. “For some people, it needs to feel real first. I hope this picture on Facebook will help make it real for some people out there.”
Germ warfare: Saginaw hospital becomes battleground in U.S. Army’s COVID-19 fight
When omicron came to Saginaw: Tests revealed COVID-19 variant surge’s arrival. The worst is ahead.
Mid-Michigan’s deadliest COVID-19 surge hit hardest at Saginaw’s Covenant hospital. They’re bracing for more.
‘That’s the most I’ve ever seen’: Surge of patients slammed Saginaw’s Covenant hospital staff Tuesday
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