UH Geauga Intensivists, Hospital Teams Step Up to Meet COVID-19 Demand

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Ingenuity, teamwork double ICU capacity to respond to last COVID surge

UH Clinical Update | May 2022

The 12-bed Intensive Care Unit at UH Geauga Medical Center was prepared for COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, leaders put plans in place to be able to expand to 18 beds to meet the needs of severely ill COVID patients, knowing that it was important to be able to care for these patients in their own community hospital.

Mustafa Abas, MD, UH Geauga Pulmonary Critical CareMustafa Abas, MD
Charles Peng, MD UH Geauga Critical CareCharles Peng, MD

However, the most recent surge of the novel coronavirus challenged even these forward-thinking preparations. In the late months of 2021 and early months of 2022, with patient census counts rising, the ICU at UH Geauga was suddenly at double typical capacity and a few days even slightly above, many of the patients having COVID-19.

“For many months, UH Geauga regularly cared for 18-24 patients with ICU level of care,” says Marlea Miano, MD, Chief Medical Officer at UH Geauga Medical Center.

Dr. Miano credits intensivists Mustafa Abas, MD, and Charles Peng, MD, who managed the UH Geauga ICU on alternating weeks, with maintaining high-quality care on the unit during this surge, even when circumstances seemed dire and on-the-fly adjustments were often needed. In fact, both Dr. Abas and Dr. Peng were recently recognized by UH CEO Cliff Megerian, MD, with a “Dinner with the Doc” honor for this exemplary work.

Dr. Abas and Dr. Peng, in turn, credit the support they got from all the different departments of the hospital, who worked together to make it happen.

“We had really great support at UH Geauga at all levels – nursing, leadership, Emergency Room, respiratory therapists, actually even our surgery team – they stepped up and they offered help,” Dr. Abas says. “Our nursing leadership really did step up. We did not see the shortages that every hospital in the nation felt. I don’t think at any point we had a critical shortage on our nursing staff. They were really well prepared for this. The nurses all worked overtime and it was really great support. We had a few days where we had to board some ICU patients in the ED, so our ED physicians and leadership were really supportive. We knew that they had our back in the ED.”

This support made what could have been a chaotic situation seem almost normal, Dr. Abas says.

“Even with the number doubled what we usually care for, I never felt at any point that we were overwhelmed or things were out of control,” he says.

The common theme echoed by Drs. Miano, Abas and Peng is the importance of enlisting the entire hospital team, thinking creatively and solving a problem together – especially a challenging problem like COVID-19.

“Dr. Abas and Dr. Peng collaborated with the nursing leadership to plan the best way to safely care for this number of patients,” Dr. Miano says. “There were many challenges with equipment and logistics as the “ICU” expanded into the step-down area.”

To add another level of complexity to an already-busy time, the late months of 2021 when we experienced the last COVID surge also saw the new arrival of internal medicine residents at the UH Geauga ICU, who were transferring from UH Bedford and UH Richmond medical centers as a result of our move to a three-campus model.

 “Dr. Abas and Dr. Peng were amazingly supportive of this initiative to accept a new group of learners during such a stressful and tumultuous time,” says Dr. Miano.

Dr. Abas says he welcomed the arrival of the residents, even though it was on short notice.

“I enjoy working with residents,” he says. “Teaching keeps my brain fresh and helps me to stay updated. We learn from each other every day. We did not have a lot of time to prepare, but with all the support that we had, it went very smoothly. The feedback that we had from residents, nurses and leadership was that the transition was very smooth. They were very happy, even though it was a very busy period.”

Dr. Abas calls the most recent COVID surge the most challenging time of his career. But he says weathering it at UH has made it also one of the most rewarding times in his career.

“I can’t say anything negative about the last almost nine years with UH in training and working at Geauga as an intensivist,” he says. “I still enjoy it as much as on day one. COVID is a very serious disease, we’ve seen a lot of sad cases. Many people who died were young and healthy. But as long as we worked as a team, that’s what kept us going. That’s what’s helped us overcome all of these difficulties. Our system at Geauga and UH in general – the support was just tremendous at all levels, from the social worker team, to the palliative care team, nurses at the bedside, physicians, leadership. It takes more than just a physician to take care of these patients, you need a full team to take care of COVID patients.  And we have it.”

Congratulations to Dr. Abas and Dr. Peng on their “Dinner with the Doc” honor.

To nominate a physician for this honor, please visit the UH Digital Workplace. The next deadline is July 22.

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