Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Summer 2020 - 31

Coronavirus Chronicles: Berks Responds

READING HOSPITAL - TOWER HEALTH
RESPONSE TO COVID-19
by William M. Jennings, Reading Hospital President and CEO

R

eading Hospital - Tower Health began preparing for
COVID-19 as soon as we learned of the outbreak in
Wuhan, China in January 2020. As the virus spread around
the world, we implemented plans that have been developed for
other similar events, while updating our response based on the
information we learned from other states as well as around the
world. This pandemic added additional challenges because we
also had to comply with shelter-in-place orders, communicate the
cancellation of elective and outpatient procedures, and manage
the quarantining of exposed physicians, nurses, and staff. Personal
Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies were difficult to obtain, and
there was an extraordinary demand for patient testing.
One of the immediate actions we took when the virus arrived
in our communities was to apply strict visitor restriction policies.
These new limitations were needed to keep our patients and
employees safe and prevent further spread of the virus. This was an
extremely difficult decision because as healthcare providers we know
our patients benefit when they have family and friends support
their recovery and serve as important members in their healthcare
team.
Another immediate action and safety measure was to cohort
COVID patients on designated nursing units. Placing these
patients in the same unit helped us preserve PPE, reduce possible
spread, and the practice continues today. We had team members
that specifically volunteered to be assigned to these units.
With the social distancing required for our community's
response to COVID-19, Tower Health accelerated and expanded
options for safe, secure virtual healthcare visits so patients can
access their healthcare provider via phone, tablet, or computer from
home. This included urgent care, wellness visits, follow-up care,
and even some select new patient appointments. Virtual visits have
proven popular in protecting healthcare workers and community
members by keeping healthy patients and those with low acuity
symptoms such as cough or cold symptoms at home. Even after the
risk of COVID-19 recedes, we believe virtual care is here to stay
and we are continuing to invest in Tower Health's capabilities in
this care platform.
Our organization also began to proactively identify, and
participate, in appropriate clinical trials. These important studies
help to support ill patients while advancing our knowledge of
COVID-19 so we can continue to refine the treatments provided to
patients. We are currently involved in three clinical trials including
research around the use of plasma from those who have recovered
from COVID-19. The goal of this study is to investigate the use of
antibodies, presumed to be present in the plasma, as a treatment for
those with the disease. We are also participating in a longitudinal

study with our colleagues from Drexel University College of
Medicine researching the immune response of hospitalized
individuals with COVID-19. These individuals will be followed,
and samples collected, every three months for one year. The final
study is for patients with COVID-19 pneumonia in hopes of
increasing survival in this patient population without the use of
ventilators.
There were also challenges associated with the preparation and
arrival of the virus in our area. For example, because this is a novel
virus, we were learning more each day about the transmission,
recommended PPE for healthcare providers, among other things.
We monitored all of this information closely so that we could
update our policies to reflect the most current advisories.
Securing the proper PPE and necessary quantity of PPE was also
difficult for our hospital, as well as hospitals around the world. We
received hundreds of leads on PPE and COVID testing supplies.
Unfortunately, not every lead was legitimate and our Supply Chain
team members had to carefully investigate each one to ensure
validity and quality.
It is also important to acknowledge the crucial role our
supportive public played in preventing the spread of the virus. By
staying at home, practicing social distancing, and washing hands
our community members helped reduce the spread of infection and
flatten the COVID-19 curve. Our generous community also made
monetary donations and donated hard to find PPE to ensure the
safety of our patients and employees.
While COVID-19 is not yet over I think we must emphasize
the importance of the partnership between the hospital, physicians,
nurses, employees, patients, and our community. We worked
closely with Berks County officials and Penn State Health
St. Joseph for the mutual benefit of all organizations and the
community. Together, we used predictive modeling to closely track
COVID-19 and help predict what we were going to see in our
communities. Working together and learning from each other
resulted in saving the lives of our family, friends, and neighbors.
Certainly COVID-19 required a complex and rapid series of
operational and technical challenges and changes at Reading
Hospital and throughout Tower Health. What we will remember
most, however, is this dedication, courage, grace, and perseverance
of our physicians, nurses, staff, and community. The sense of
shared purpose was overwhelming, and made extremely difficult
circumstances not just tolerable, but an example of healthcare at
its finest: mutual support, love, and generosity made real in the
everyday actions and interactions of our community. We will never
forget it.

SUMMER 2020

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Berks County Medical Society Medical Record Summer 2020

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