This past week, Gov. Baker and Lt. Gov. Polito released guidelines for reopening the state, which included specific guidance for those of us in health care (see link to the HHS website). While we at UMass Memorial Health Care have been planning our recovery phase for about a month now, we’re evaluating the state’s guidance to ensure we are closely aligned. Here are a few highlights:
Phased Approach: The Governor’s guidance is using a four-phased approach for health care that is similar to the over-arching four phases of the state’s reopening. Hospitals can initiate the first “start” phase, as long as there is sufficient hospital capacity across the state. We also must attest to meeting specific public health standards and capacity criteria. Not surprisingly, the first phase of services to reopen are high-priority preventive care or urgent procedures that no longer can be delayed. An example might be a colonoscopy for a patient who is at high risk for colon cancer as opposed to just a regular annual colonoscopy for someone who is not high risk. We’ve already begun these types of services in parts of our system and will be ramping up more in the next week or two. It will be a delicate balance of opening capacity, ensuring appropriate staffing and upholding our safety measures as we must still continue our COVID-19 patient care.
Phase two and three are “cautious and vigilant” to expand less urgent ambulatory care, but doing so slowly and methodically, and adhering to our enhanced safety protocols, such as universal masking, social distancing, hand hygiene and vigilant cleaning. The fourth phase is the “new normal” in which we have reopened all services with the enhanced safety guidelines in place. As we continue to ramp up services through the summer months according to the four phases, we’ll monitor our reopening progress and our current COVID-19 patient care closely to ensure we don’t have a resurgence of COVID-19.
I, along with the state’s other health system CEOs, have a daily call with the governor and lieutenant governor during which we review a set of measures that help us understand the prevalence of COVID disease in the state and the impact it is having on our operations. We also provide input to them about the safety of moving into the next phase of reopening or the need to stop or even back up to a previous phase.
Drawing Down Surge Capacity: As we ramp up ambulatory care services, we’ll slowly decrease the surge capacity we had created in March to prepare for the COVID-19 peak. While our ICU capacity across the system is still very high, we no longer need as much surge space for lower-acuity patients, so we’ve closed patient care at the DCU Center Field Hospital this week. We will keep the field hospital, as well as our other ICU surge space intact, in case we need it for a resurgence of patients if there is another outbreak. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our caregivers (see picture at right) who have been working at the DCU Center for the last six weeks and those who helped build the site so quickly back in April. Without the field hospital and without their dedicated service, we wouldn’t have been able to manage the surge in COVID patients like we did. Thank you!
Our Promise to Our Patients: As we reopen our services, we recognize that some people still may be fearful to come into our hospitals and outpatient areas because of COVID-19. We make this promise to our patients – as we always have, we will provide exceptional, compassionate, patient-centered care in a SAFE environment. I’ve said in multiple media interviews recently that there is no safer place to be now than in a health care setting because of our enhanced infection control protocols and our hyper-vigilance to keep our patients and our caregivers safe.
If you are a patient at any of our UMass Memorial Health Care locations and have any questions, please take a look at this frequently-asked question document on our website or this easy-to-read overview of our safety protocols, or call your provider who can give you the help you need to make the right decisions about your care.
Remember this is a Marathon: When I speak to our caregivers, I often compare this pandemic to a marathon. Hitting the COVID-19 peak – which was on May 1 with the highest total number of COVID-19 patients – was much like making it to the top of Heartbreak Hill. Having run several marathons – including the Boston Marathon – when I was younger, I can tell you the last few miles can be the toughest.
But, something also happens toward the end – you see the finish line and you get a second wind, a rush of energy that keeps you going. You know you’ve almost made it. You’re so close to accomplishing an amazing feat that you’ve trained and prepared for. That’s where we are now. We are close to declaring victory over COVID-19, and now is the time for us to persevere and not give up.
We will never give up because our patients are counting on us. And we need our patients and members of the community to stay in this fight and be vigilant with things like wearing a mask, social distancing, and hand hygiene, so that we don’t see a resurgence of this terrible disease.
We’re in this together, and I know we can do it! Stay safe and stay well!
P.S. In case you missed it, I did a Facebook Live recently with Spectrum News Worcester’s Ana Bottary. We talked about our reopening of services and our amazing caregivers at UMass Memorial Health Care!