Dr. Bevan Yueh wants to make one thing clear: He’s no hero. Just a member of a team alarmed by an approaching pandemic. Just a member of a team hustling to open Bethesda as an all COVID-19 hospital. Just a member of a team who wound up being one of its first patients.
“I think part of it is a sense of guilt,” says Dr. Yueh. “Here I was, a physician, a healer who’s supposed to be taking care of people.”
Observes Dr. Jakub Tolar: “He saw both sides of this terrifying disease. And that gives him an incredible opportunity to do justice to the hardship of the pandemic.”
The Bethesda Hospital conversion team formed in early March, after hearing shocking frontline reports from colleagues in China, Seattle, and New York City.
One Sunday, Dr. Yueh noticed a small cough. He attributed it, at first, to neglecting to fill his asthma medication.
The next morning, he couldn’t taste his toothpaste.
When test results confirmed his suspicions, Dr. Yueh hunkered down at home. His temperature spiked. His cough worsened.
Still, he couldn’t let go of his work, dismissing concerns of colleagues who noticed, on calls, that he could hardly finish a sentence without coughing.
They contacted his worried wife and sent over an instrument to measure his oxygen saturation level. Just a few days later, he was in the emergency room, then on his way to Bethesda.
Symptoms worsened, including one he hadn’t anticipated. “The nightmares were really terrifying,” Dr. Yueh says.
Eleven fretful, sleepless days and nights later, a shaken Dr. Yueh ventured home. When he suffered a brief relapse, after doing too much too fast, he finally gave himself the time to recover.
“This virus is not like the flu,” he says.
Dr. Yueh’s wife and daughter tested positive, but both recovered at home. His son, somehow, never contracted the disease. Dr. Yueh’s mother, living in an assisted living facility, wound up in Bethesda shortly after him. Through her experience, Dr. Yueh saw academic medicine in action, doctors and nurses learning, adapting, innovating.
“In just three weeks, treatment had improved. They stopped therapies that weren’t proven and added new ones, like plasma from recovered patients. It was like a year of progress had been made,” he says.
Dr. Yueh’s back. More determined than ever to help. One important insight he brings to the fight is that there’s an emotional toll to COVID-19, as well as a physical one. It bothered him tremendously that he was sidelined for so long, not being able to help, to serve, to do what he was trained to do. “I thought, I used to be strong. Now, I’m useless.”
But, as humbling as the disease was, Dr. Yueh saw something bigger. Something better. Something that gave him a tremendous amount of hope and pride: A team of brave colleagues, rising to meet, to fight, to defeat this formidable foe.
RESPONDING TO A PANDEMIC: Bethesda Hospital. Two weeks. That’s how long it took a team from the joint partners of M Health Fairview to come together and create one of the first, and still one of the few, COVID-only hospitals in the U.S. The benefit? An expert care team learning from each patient how to take better care of the next one. More than 475 patients later, this strategy has shown the power of shared experience to improve treatments for COVID-19 and has resulted in one of the best intensive care survival rates in the U.S.
Professor and Department Chair of Department of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery, University of Minnesota Medical School; Interim CEO, M Physicians
“You learn lessons about your own limitations. You think that you can do everything for everybody and once in a while you have to dial it back.”
Dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School, M Physicians, and Fairview Health Services created a joint partnership to combine strengths of a large healthcare provider and academic medicine. The M Health Fairview partnership brought together critical care physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, hospitalists, and administrators to assess the pandemic healthcare needs and prepare an innovative response that transformed Bethesda into a highly specialized COVID-19-only hospital.
University of Minnesota Campus Public Health Office:
M Health Fairview COVID-19 testing information:
M Health Fairview 24/7 virtual clinic:
Resources on COVID-19 in MN:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 information: