The challenges posed by COVID-19 have crippled health care systems around the globe. By February 2019, the first outbreak in the United States had been set off in Washington State. We quickly became the world’s epicenter of the epidemic, with over 1.8 million patients and over 110,000 deaths.1 The rapidity of spread and the severity of the disease created a tremendous strain on resources. It blindsided policymakers and hospital administrators, which left little time to react to the challenges placed on hospital operations all over the country.
The necessity of a new care model
Although health systems in the United States are adept in managing complications of common seasonal viral respiratory illnesses, COVID-19 presented an entirely different challenge with its significantly higher mortality rate. A respiratory disease turning into a multiorgan disease that causes debilitating cardiac, renal, neurological, hematological, and psychosocial complications2 was not something we had experience managing effectively. Additional challenges included a massive surge of COVID-19 patients, a limited supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), an inadequate number of intensivists for managing the anticipated ventilated patients, and most importantly, the potential of losing some of our workforce if they became infected.
Based on the experiences in China and Italy, and various predictive models, the division of hospital medicine at Baystate Health quickly realized the necessity of a new model of care for COVID-19 patients. We came up with an elaborate plan to manage the disease burden and the strain on resources effectively. The measures we put in place could be broadly divided into three categories following the timeline of the disease: the preparatory phase, the execution phase, and the maintenance phase.
The preparatory phase: From “Hospitalists” to “COVIDists”
As in most hospitals around the country, hospitalists are the backbone of inpatient clinical operations at our health system. A focused group of 10 hospitalists who volunteered to take care of COVID-19 patients with a particular interest in the pandemic and experience in critical care were selected, and the term “COVIDists” was coined to refer to them.
COVIDists were trained in various treatment protocols and ongoing clinical trials. They were given refresher training in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Fundamental Critical Care Support (FCCS) courses and were taught in critical care/ventilator management by the intensivists through rapid indoctrination in the ICU. All of them had their N-95 mask fitting updated and were trained in the safe donning and doffing of all kinds of PPE by PPE coaches. The palliative care team trained them in conducting end-of-life/code status discussions with a focus on being unable to speak with family members at the bedside. COVIDists were also assigned as Code Blue leaders for any “COVID code blue” in the hospital.
In addition to the rapid training course, COVID-related updates were disseminated daily using three different modalities: brief huddles at the start of the day with the COVIDists; a COVID-19 newsletter summarizing daily updates, new treatments, strategies, and policies; and a WhatsApp group for instantly broadcasting information to the COVIDists (Table 1).