We are at War With COVID-19, and I’m Grateful for our Army of Problem Solvers

We recently hosted a Virtual Town Hall Meeting to inform our friends of UMass Memorial Health Care – our supporters, legislators, business and community organization leaders, and local media – about our response to this crisis. In this town hall, I described what we’re facing with COVID-19 as waging a war against a sneaky, malicious enemy. This virus is like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

If you would like to see and listen to the UMass Memorial Virtual Town Hall Meeting from last week, check out this link.

ED tent with Courtney

Working in the COVID tent with Courtney Temple, MD.

In my experience as an Emergency Medicine physician, there’s one precious thing in planning for a disaster such as this that you can’t waste or ever get back – that is time. If we don’t plan now for what lies ahead, we will never get that planning time back. I was in the Army right out of high school, so I often use military analogies. This would be like being in the heat of battle and wishing you had spent more time on the firing range practicing your aim. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, it isn’t the time to figure out your plan or practice what you’re going to do. That full-on, no-turning-back crisis point – what we are calling the peak of this pandemic – will be here in Massachusetts in the next two weeks.

That is why I’m enormously grateful to the 14,000 caregivers of UMass Memorial who have been working tirelessly planning for this upcoming surge in patient volume. We have an army of problem solvers who are trained in process improvement and rapid deployment of solutions. Over the past month, they have been planning and practicing for what lies ahead of us. And that’s why I firmly believe we’re the best prepared in the state for what’s coming.

For UMass Memorial, our surge planning includes four major components:

  1. Increasing our Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capabilities – We need to have the space, equipment and staff available to at least double our ICU care.
  2. Homeless shelters – We’ve partnered with the City of Worcester to move homeless individuals with COVID-19 into locations where they can be cared for and isolated from others so as not to spread the disease among this vulnerable population.
  3. Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center – We’ve partnered with Matt Salmon, CEO of Salmon Health, which owns Beaumont (located next door to our University Campus) – to transition their residents to other locations to make space for patients recovering from COVID disease in a lower acuity setting. We were the first in the state to open a post-acute facility to care for these patients.
  4. DCU Center Field Hospital – We’ve partnered with our local officials and the Baker/Polito Administration to open the first of three such facilities in the state to relieve pressure on the state’s health system by adding a maximum of 250 beds to care for lower acuity patients. We’re actively recruiting people to work at this site. For those who are interested, visit our website at www.joinumassmemorial.com

This surge planning is extremely important so that we can ensure we have enough hospital beds to care for the sickest patients and appropriate places – with staffing and supplies – to care for patients who have mild cases or are in recovery.

I know it’s scary to think about what is coming – particularly when you see the news about what happened in other parts of the world and right here in the U.S. in Washington state and New York City. The best-case scenario is that when this is all over, we’ll look back and say that we didn’t need this surge capacity or all of this planning. That would mean that we took enough precautions to flatten the curve to prevent COVID-19 to not impact as many as it could’ve had we not taken those initiatives. I hope for our sake, we are wrong. But I do believe we’ve taken the right steps here in Massachusetts to get ready. We’ve all come together with the common mission to save lives.

If you want to know more about our COVID-19 preparations for our system, visit our website. And if you would like to support us, there are several ways we could use your help:

  • Donate Blood: Contact the American Red Cross through their website at www.RedCross.org
  • Food Donations: For non-perishable/shelf-stable food donations, send an email to Communitydonations@umassmemorial.org
  • Supply Donations: For medical supply donations, send an email to SupplyChainDonations@umassmemorial.org
  • Monetary Donations: For monetary donations to our UMass Memorial COVID-19 Response Fund, visit our website at Give.UMassMemorial.org or send an email to: give@umassmemorial.org

I’m so proud of how all the communities we serve have rallied around our health care system, and in particular, held up our caregivers as everyday heroes. That’s truly what they are – heroes who will save the day. Thank you for supporting us so that we can take care of you. We will get through this – together!

Be well and stay safe!



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