University Hospitals Rising to the Challenge of a Pandemic

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UH and its clinicians have a legacy that is unlike any other hospital when it comes to responding to worldwide threats and mobilizing its caregivers

UH Clinical Update | March 2020

By Cliff Megerian, MD
President, University Hospitals

Last month, which now seems so long ago, I had said I would write more about how we value the distinct and diverse cultures of UH. In light of COVID-19, the subject has naturally changed.

Cliff Megerian, MD Cliff Megerian, MD

The entire world has been dealing with the spread and the health care-related consequences of this virus.  As of Monday, March 30, Ohio has confirmed 1,933 cases, with 493 in Cuyahoga County. UH has seen many of these patients. 

Based on what we know about how this virus progresses, the number of patients we treat will surge dramatically over the next few weeks, which brings unprecedented challenges to us and every other health care system.

Yet I have never been more proud and honored to be working at UH than I have been over the last several weeks. I have participated in the incredible teamwork of a system that is confronting this threat at the highest levels - not only in treating those who are ill, but in working to determine the efficacy of a drug to defeat the virus, while keeping our caregivers as safe as possible.

This should not be surprising, since UH and its clinicians have a legacy that is unlike any other hospital when it comes to responding to worldwide threats and mobilizing its caregivers.

In World War I, UH was first to respond to President Woodrow Wilson’s call to put together a medical team to travel to the battlefields of France, even before the U.S. entered the war. Dozens of doctors and nurses and allied personnel left Cleveland, some for a number of years, to treat the wounded, discovering new and more effective ways to do so – in terms of shock, blood transfusion, hemorrhage and the surgical treatment of traumatic injures – all of which benefited future patients.  

And still our hospital here at home not only managed, but then faced the onslaught of the Spanish influenza. During that 1918 pandemic, the hospital superintendent received a letter from the Red Cross stating that Lakeside, as UH was then known, had done more than any other local hospital to meet the needs of the community.

So it is in our DNA and our culture that when we are faced with an existential threat, we break down silos, band together and put patients first. 

That is exactly what we are doing now.

Amazingly, within a few hours of COVID-19’s presence here, our pathology department, under the leadership of Dr. Christine Schmotzer, were able to develop our own testing platform to bring same-day results that determined whether patients had the virus.

Similarly, working with our colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic, we quickly opened up testing sites at the W.O. Walker building and at UH Landerbrook to provide a safe zone for testing people expediently.  

Under the leadership of Drs. Dan Simon and Willie Brien, our team coordinated with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, building strategies on dealing with the flow of elective vs. non-elective clinical care and how to best care for all our patients to minimize the spread of this formidable virus.

Just two weeks ago, the state had a fairly small footprint of affected patients, but we knew from epidemiological data that the number would rise vastly higher before decreasing.  Naturally this would, and has, changed the cadence of our work, the way we work, and how much of our time each day is spent treating patients ill with the virus. 

This requires deploying our resources to where they are desperately needed, and it certainly requires high diligence in protecting ourselves, our patients, and our families from the virus. 

Throughout our system, people are working tirelessly with this as our highest goal. 

We and our colleagues, here and around the world, will eventually mitigate this surge in human infections. Of that, there is no doubt. 

It will occur through physical isolation, quarantines and temporary changes in the way we live our daily lives – and treatment. The roles and guidelines by which we respond to this threat may change not only from one day to the next, but from hour to hour.

We know this, based on input from our UH infectious disease specialists, such as Drs. Bob Salata, Keith Armitage, Elie Saade, and Claudia Hoyen, who, along with so many others here, have already become heroes. They are who we and people around the country turn to for their expertise. 

Many of you know that teams from the clinical, operational and administrative sides of UH are meeting around the clock – I mean this literally - through a Unified Command Center, an organizational structure spearheaded by Dr. Eric Beck, our system COO. He brings significant prior experience in emergency and disaster management, having served the Illinois Department of Public Health EMS Medical Director for the city of Chicago, and leading the national efforts based in Dallas as FEMA contractor with the Ebola virus.

I am incredibly grateful and proud to be your colleague. And I will not minimize what is happening. Yes, we will face difficult days that will test us in ways we have not been tested before. We are dealing with a new and sometimes deadly virus, which brings unpredictability, especially in how many people will need treatment.

But I know absolutely – and I want to assure you - that UH and our staff will emerge from this experience stronger than we have ever been. 

When history is written decades from now, this will be another account of our dedication and courage.

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