Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read March 2021 — Memorial Healthcare System has been a leader in providing high-quality healthcare services to South Florida residents, serving as a staple to its community since its inception in 1953. In an interview with Invest:, Joe Stuczynski, CEO of Memorial Hospital Pembroke, shares Memorial’s greatest challenges and innovations over this past year.
What was your biggest challenge this past year?
Our biggest challenge was adapting to the COVID virus. Every day, we learned new information and had to change what we did accordingly. At the height of the virus, we had 690 COVID-19 patients. We had to create COVID units overnight and make sure we had enough PPE for everybody. We also were focused on keeping up the morale of our nurses. Nurses, who didn’t have patients for longer than 48 hours, were now having them for three weeks and watching patients die. They were not used to that. Many of our nurses aren’t ICU or ER nurses, who see more of that. Our nurses saw more deaths in a month than they have their entire career, and keeping their morale up was very difficult. It didn’t help that we were constantly changing processes as we learned more about the virus and adapted accordingly. Our ICUs were full, so we had to create overflow ICUs in our pre-op area and other nursing floors. It was difficult to maintain.
How important has telehealth been to maintaining morale?
It has played a significant role. We were the first hospital here to implement telehealth in the patient room. We put iPads in the patient room so that nurses didn’t have to go in the room all of the time. They could talk to the patient through the iPad, which reduced some of the stress of constant exposure and conserved PPE. The same applied to doctors. If a patient had an issue after the doctor left, the doctor didn’t have to re-gown up and could instead talk and see the patient via the iPad. That took some of the stress off.
Will telehealth continue post-pandemic?
I really think this is going to stick even after the pandemic has passed. It’s helped us reach areas we normally wouldn’t be able to reach. We’ve also been able to talk to patients who are afraid to come into the office. Being able to remotely follow up with patients will be big going forward. Instead of waiting a month to revisit your doctor after an appointment, patients can do a quick five-minute teleconference. This provides more efficient care to clients and physicians become more productive.
How well-prepared is Memorial for an increase in population and the aging of baby boomers?
Memorial is in a unique position, as long as COVID-19 subsides we’ll be able to handle it. A lot more care is being done at home. More procedures are being done outpatient instead of inpatient, not taking up a hospital bed. When you see a patient with hip and knee implants going home the same day, that person a few years ago was staying four or five days. Now they’re just staying overnight. We’re able to monitor individuals from home as well. Technology will be big in handling the additional demand that’s coming.
The retirement of nurses coming up may be a bigger problem than the influx of patients we’re going to get. But we have seen a good influx of nurses. Memorial has created a nurse residency program, from which we have a steady inflow of new nurses. I hear about the nursing shortage but we’re doing well.
As well, if President Biden expands the Affordable Care Act that had been rescinded, and more people get that health insurance, I believe that will also bring a lot of pent-up demand to health centers.
How has demand shifted this past year?
Most demand has fluctuated downward. People are afraid to come into a hospital because they believe they’ll get COVID. We’ve also had to taper down some of our outpatient services, especially in imaging, because we have to follow CDC guidelines and restrict how many patients can be in a waiting room. ER visits in the tri-county area are all way down. People are delaying their care, and when they do come in, they’re sicker than they’ve ever been.
How has Memorial been rebuilding the confidence of local residents?
We’ve been doing outreach to boost confidence in hospitals. Our media team is informing the community that it’s safe to come, and that we’re open. We’re trying to flood the market with it but there’s not enough news time to educate everyone.
How successful are monoclonal antibody infusions?
We’ve done over 240 transfusions. Out of that group, only four people have been admitted to the hospital. This is taking people who have tested positive for COVID, and we are seeing success in mitigating the virus’ effects. There are a few requirements for this, such as being 65 or older or having comorbidities, which puts these patients at higher risk to develop severe COVID-19 symptoms. The infusion takes about an hour, and then we have to watch you for an hour. Almost all of our slots are full, and we’re looking to expand the program. It’s a treatment that can keep people out of the hospital, which will help us over the long term.
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