Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Summer 2020 - 27

Coronavirus Chronicles: Berks Responds

PENN STATE HEALTH ST. JOSEPH IN ITS FINEST HOUR

Reflections on the Pandemic in Its Early Months
by Jason Dunlap
Emergency Management Coordinator
Penn State Health St. Joseph

I

t's often been said that we fear what we don't understand. In
the early phases of the coronavirus, fear of the unknown seemed
to dominate across the spectrum.
The stories that we heard as the disease made its way across the
world were indeed scary, but that
fear was warranted in the absence of
validated information.
The early warnings from the other
side of the globe enabled us to begin
to execute our emergency operations
plan for what appeared to be the first
global pandemic in over a century.
The most important early step
we took was learning as much as we
could about the coronavirus and its
clinical pathways from those who
were already handling it. Vital to
our planning was also understanding
what other countries did to protect
their staffs, in addition to understanding how well they aggressively
treated their patients. It felt like we were 'building the plane as it
flew.'
We realized the 'novel-ness' of this novel coronavirus. We went
into our response with an open mind as we sought to understand
the virus, how to best educate and prepare our staff, how to plan for
the inevitable surge, how to handle the logistics of coveted supplies
and equipment, how to rethink our policies to keep people safe,
and how best to care for patients in this uncertain time.
As the awareness picked up, as panic kicked in in the public,
and as we began to understand the scope of the virus and its spread,
we quickly stood up an outdoor, drive-up testing center. It enabled
us to test numerous patients quickly while also distancing from
patients under investigation who could potentially infect staff or
other patients. It was typical St. Joe's incredible teamwork that
in the short span of a few days our incident management team,
working with our clinical staff and lab, were able to get this process
set up and running. It was a project born out of urgent necessity,
and vital to our response given the growing concern among the
public, especially as the media began to report comprehensively on
this illness and its impact, and governments began taking actions to
prevent the spread.
Throughout the early months of pandemic and as it continues
through today, our staff responded as professionals, despite the
ever-changing information about the illness and its transmission.

Fundamentally, the protocols were already in place for dealing
with such an infection, but we sought-and took-guidance
from the CDC, Pennsylvania Department of Health, Hospital
and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), and our
colleagues regionally and across
the nation as our understanding
increased of how to address this
virus.
Penn State Health St. Joseph's
affiliation with an academic medical
center, Penn State Health Hershey
Medical Center, was critical to our
response early on. With Hershey
Medical Center, we had the
capability to quickly turn around
testing results, which enhanced
our ability to manage bed capacity
because we could relatively quickly
confirm a Covid positive patient.
Further, it gave us access to provide plasma therapy and, along
with the state's distribution of the antiviral medication Remdesivir,
enabled us to offer all the emerging treatments that showed promise
for improving patients' recovery from the disease.
Like other hospitals across the country, one of the actions that
had the most impact was imposing restrictions on visitors. Closing
off the hospital to the public was something that none of us had
ever done before. It required us to rethink how we communicated
with both patients and their families to ensure that those social
connections remained, despite the fact that people could not be
in a face-to-face setting. Our staff went to extraordinary lengths
to ensure that there were frequent opportunities for interaction.
Coming out of this, we have further seen the importance and the
value of a family support system to the recovery of patients in body,
mind, and soul.
Finally, the way that the community stepped up to acknowledge
healthcare workers was both heartening and humbling. The
outpouring of love and support for medical professionals sustained
many staff who were on the frontlines of this pandemic. While
we know that this disease will continue to be with us for the
foreseeable future, we believe that because we have learned so much
and have been truly appreciative of the community's support,
together we have responded in such a way that we could confidently
say "this was our finest hour."

SUMMER 2020

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Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Summer 2020

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