Guest Commentary: UM Shore Regional Health Responds to COVID-19
By Ken Kozel
When COVID-19 became even more relevant to Marylanders in late February, we joined our colleagues at the University of Maryland Medical System and opened our local unified Incident Command Center to ready our three hospitals and Queen Anne’s Emergency Center to serve the people of our five-county region. We will remain in full Incident Command operation until the pandemic is over.
Our daily focus is caring for all of our patients, supporting the safety and well-being of our team, and preparing for an increase in the volume of patients. Partnerships with our UMMS colleagues, our physicians, each county’s Emergency Operations Center and the community are helping us to secure equipment, supplies and space for possible expanded patient care locations.
In an effort to “flatten the curve” of hospitalized COVID-19 positive patients, we immediately restricted visitors, cancelled elective surgeries and expanded our provider’ telemedicine practices. We masked all staff and visitors, and began temperature checks on all who enter our buildings, 24/7. We also prepared our hospital facilities for the care and cohorting of COVID-19 patients by expanding negative pressure and air filtration systems and setting up separate assessment tents adjacent to our emergency departments.
While we are in a good position now, we have our challenges consistent with those of hospitals around the world. Having an adequate amount of personal protective equipment, or PPE, is a constant effort due to worldwide shortages of masks, gowns, face shields and eye protection. We put the health and safety of our team who are on the front lines of care as our priority. They are our colleagues, friends and family. Each day, we work to insure they have the equipment, medications and supplies to care for patients.
Early on, testing and test result availability had been a challenge. However, efforts by local health departments, the State and UMMS have accelerated our testing capability and are reducing test result turn-around time for patients seen in our emergency rooms and for our hospital inpatients. Recognizing that testing will be one of the keys to defeating this pandemic, we, like all health care facilities across the nation, are focused on achieving and maintaining adequate testing levels.
As predicted, the increase in the number of tests being performed is leading to an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 patients in our state and also within our hospitals. This is expected. Each of our Shore Regional Health hospitals has or will have COVID-19 positive patients and we are safely managing their care while keeping our team safe. At this time, we are far from reaching our local surge capacity.
Refining our surge plan is a continual process. Projections for our Mid-Shore region are provided by the State on a regular basis and to date, I’m guardedly optimistic these estimates point to hospital and ICU volumes well below what we can accommodate.
We must continue to work together to fight this pandemic. Staying at home, washing your hands and continuing to maintain social distancing are things everyone must continue to do. It’s the best way to support our hospital team.
I extend my sincere thanks to each of our 2500-plus Shore Regional Health team members. Their courage, devotion and compassion is inspiring. I also would like to share our team’s deepest gratitude to our community. Our hospitals have received overwhelming support from hundreds of individuals, families, businesses, civic organizations, churches and other groups throughout our Mid-Shore region. Our team is heartened to know that our community appreciates the dedication, professionalism and caring they bring to work, especially in this challenging time.
We will get through this together! Please, be safe. And if you have questions about the UM SRH and UMMS response to COVID-19, please visit umms.org/covid.
Ken Kozel is president and CEO of University of Maryland Shore Regional Health.