By: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read April 2020 — Virtua Health is an award-winning nonprofit health system that provides a complete spectrum of advanced and accessible healthcare services. Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer Reginald Blaber discusses the efforts at Virtua’s hospitals to fight the COVID-19 outbreak, including the formation of a dedicated team to battle the pandemic.
What accommodations are your hospitals making to handle the influx of patients due to the COVID-19 outbreak?
Virtua Health has formed a team representing all divisions of our workforce that is dedicated to preparing for and responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. As a comprehensive healthcare system with more than 280 locations, Virtua has considerable flexibility in our ability to re-allocate resources.
Virtua’s ICU footprint is likely to grow in the weeks ahead. We have close to 1,500 licensed beds among our five hospitals, and we are examining various configurations to ensure we can meet the need as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow.
Virtua has also created temporary respiratory triage centers to support three of its emergency departments (ED). These centers are not specifically for testing for COVID-19, but help triage people who present to the ED with symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough, sore throat or fever. Two of these centers are in tents outside Virtua Memorial and Virtua Voorhees hospitals. The auditorium inside Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital has been repurposed for this function, as well. Additional triage centers may be established at other Virtua sites, as needed.
How is your system working to ensure that patients and healthcare professionals alike are maintaining a safe environment?
Virtua’s many classes and programs have migrated to online formats. This includes bariatric support, prenatal education and our cancer survivorship series. We believe it is vital to keep connected with our community, even if we can’t be in the same room.
Of course, many hospital departments and services must carry on regardless of the virus. Virtua maintains its commitment to support all people who turn to us for care. As an example, we will still deliver dozens of babies every week, but we have established new protocols to help ensure those families have a safe, personalized and positive experience.
Given the widespread transmission of COVID-19 in our community and the many unknowns about this new virus, we have begun providing a face mask for all Virtua colleagues – clinical and nonclinical – working in our hospitals, patient care settings and physician offices. This includes our home-care providers. We hope that by making face masks available to every employee, we can alleviate some of the anxiety among both our staff and patients.
Virtua’s supply chain team has worked tirelessly with both our traditional vendors and new connections to ensure sufficient supplies of masks and other PPE. Virtua has also received donated supplies from area businesses, which is greatly appreciated. We recognize that the supplies of masks and other PPE remain finite, and we are committed to being good stewards of these vital resources.
How can the community best assist the local healthcare providers in this time of need?
The best thing people can do for local healthcare providers is to help slow the spread of the virus. Therefore, we implore everyone to follow all the recommended precautions, including staying home and social distancing, abiding by travel restrictions, and keeping at least six feet or more from those you encounter. Also, make sure to wash your hands frequently, especially when returning home from outside, or use hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable.
Virtua Health also asks the people of South Jersey to identify ways they can support the healthcare workers in their lives, such as assisting with chores or meal preparation. However, please be sure to remain physically distant (at least six feet apart) when providing such assistance. For instance, you could prepare a meal in your own home, and then leave it on the healthcare worker’s front porch.
What would your message be to the local community that is sheltering in place and waiting for a return to normalcy?
We would tell our community to remain calm and to know that by staying home, they help to improve the overall outcome of this crisis. In a time when the world beyond the front door feels out of control, it’s important to take things day by day and focus on the things you can control.
Do you feel you are receiving enough state and federal support for items you are in need of? What can the state and federal governments be doing better in this regard?
Collaboration is essential during this national crisis, and Virtua Health is an active participant in the conversations happening on local, regional and state levels. No one could rightly say they were completely prepared for this outbreak, but as a health system, we maintain long-standing plans for
disasters and emergencies, including pandemics. Our employees have trained for these scenarios, and they have demonstrated that they are prepared to guide our community through difficult and complicated times. They are often thought of as heroes, and I can’t think of a better word to describe them.
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