If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
Around the world, COVID-19 has put the entire healthcare system to the test. Here at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, our team mounted a comprehensive response quickly and effectively. That effort likely saved countless lives and would not have been possible without the culture of quality, safety and readiness built here over decades.
At the Hospital Center, every member of the team is focused on patient safety. That’s what we do, every day. It drives every decision we make.
Since March, our leadership team has met around the clock, solving problems and innovating solutions under constantly shifting conditions. Our bedside caregivers on the units and in the Emergency Department have shown phenomenal dedication, delivering an outstanding level of care for patients with COVID-19, while protecting those who were not infected. We remain flexible and responsive, reassigning our resources quickly to put associates wherever they’re needed.
Of course, when it comes to this coronavirus, we’re not out of the woods yet. But I can say without hesitation that MedStar Washington Hospital Center delivered a stellar performance during the worst of the crisis—and we remain at the ready.
I have no adequate words to express my pride, appreciation and gratitude for this team.
Top-to-Bottom Approach to Safety
We are doing everything in our power to provide the safest environment for our patients and staff. We have reinstated routine tests and other elective procedures carefully and thoughtfully. There is no reason to avoid the hospital or delay care for any health issue. In fact, delaying care for a serious problem can be significantly more dangerous than venturing out. Routine, easily treated problems may quickly become life-threatening if left unattended. I can’t emphasize this enough.
I make regular rounds in the hospital and meet daily with the leadership team. We are well trained. We have the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that we need. And we have made a number of policy changes to stay ahead of the virus:
- All patients, visitors and associates are required to wear masks in the hospital and Physicians Office Building.
- Signs are displayed in areas that could become crowded so that we stay six feet apart.
- Waiting rooms are redesigned for proper physical distancing.
- Appointments are staggered to avoid crowding.
- We sanitize and disinfect all patient exam and procedure rooms after each appointment.
- High-touch areas are cleaned regularly.
- All patients and approved visitors are screened for symptoms.
- We have ramped up inpatient and outpatient COVID-19 testing.
We took preventive steps early, including recognition of symptoms, carefully managing access to the hospital and contacts with patients, and conducting temperature screenings. We designated specific units to isolate patients who tested positive for COVID-19. Coupled with consistent use of PPE, these tactics have been important in protecting both our patients and our staff.
We’ve also dramatically increased our use of telehealth. MedStar Health e-Visits and Video Visits have soared since March. Both of these platforms were in place before the pandemic, and I am thrilled that our patients were able to utilize these resources as the crisis unfolded. Telehealth kept them safe as we continued to learn more about the virus, and likely reduced the overall number of hospitalized patients.
Probably the most important aspect is keeping patients connected with their providers. We don’t want to lose those relationships, which are so critical to health and well-being. Telehealth at the Hospital Center is a huge asset now and has tremendous potential for the future.
MedStar Washington Hospital Center is carefully and thoughtfully restarting elective procedures and routine tests. Patient safety is our top priority. An update from President Dr. Gregory J. Argyros. https://bit.ly/2O9H69k via @MedStarWHC
Responding Quickly and Decisively
As challenging as this crisis has been, especially for those who’ve lost loved ones, it pales in comparison to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. The CDC estimates that Spanish flu killed at least 50 million worldwide, although some evidence puts that number near 100 million.
COVID-19 is a real challenge, but health care has improved dramatically since the turn of the 20th century. In today’s pandemic, most people who contract the disease will recover—a testament to the dedication, skill and resourcefulness of the global scientific and medical community.
With all the advances in immunology, epidemiology and other health sciences, we know more about this 2020 virus than our predecessors could have imagined. And with millions of dedicated professionals working on it around the globe, we learn more every day.
When this pathogen began to cause epidemic infections around the globe, and it became apparent that it would not behave like the average flu virus, we sprang into action. We activated a pre-planned Incident Command Structure, assigning very specific roles to managers in key areas. From supplies to lab testing, bed management to staffing, Incident Command optimizes at least two dozen critical areas to prepare for a potential wave of infection. This team has been the bedrock of our response to the pandemic.
Our hospital has rigorously followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. Early on, we also knew that recommendations would shift, as experts learned more about the virus and adapted workflows and procedures.
From the beginning, our medical providers, nursing staff, technologists, nutrition associates, and environmental services specialists have had the training and PPE needed to protect themselves and their patients—including masks, eye protection, gowns, head covers, shoe covers and gloves.
Our experts across the MedStar Health system worked hand-in-hand to share knowledge during this pandemic. Remember, this has been an ever-changing situation. We started by screening people who had traveled to China. Eventually, as the virus spread, travel became a non-issue. Although we learn more about the virus and possible treatments every day, success in treating our patients depends on expanding our knowledge. All our leaders continue to meet regularly to exchange information and request help, when needed.
Preparation Makes All the Difference
Preparedness for a community health crisis doesn’t happen overnight. At MedStar Washington Hospital Center, we excel at crisis management—the result of decades of making patient safety priority one. The entire MedStar organization is committed to that mission and every team member is empowered to support it.
- Safety is data driven. We continually measure and report key quality indicators.
- Our teams are experienced and, if they come across something unfamiliar, they work together to leverage their knowledge and deliver safe and quality care.
- We partner with the MedStar Health Institute for Quality and Safety to improve monitoring and reporting. That sharpens our focus for addressing small issues before they become big problems.
- We embrace the High Reliability Organization framework—an organizational system that airlines, nuclear energy and other commercial organizations implement to ensure safety.
These and other initiatives are integral to our care delivery, giving us a proactive, nimble organization that stays on its toes, every minute of every day. We never rest on success.
Staying Ready for a Healthy Future
We have not seen anything on the scale of COVID-19 in our lifetime and, like most of my colleagues, I can’t point to any specific experience that prepared me for it. However, as Chief of Medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Director of Education, Training, and Research for the National Capital Region, I had the responsibility of merging Walter Reed with the National Naval Medical Center. Success in joining two distinct operations demanded exemplary organization, teamwork and having the right people in place to carry out a plan. The same components are required to effectively deal with the pandemic.
Every day is a learning experience. We’ve learned that teamwork and clear, constant communication with our staff and our patients are imperative. Being part of MedStar Health’s distributed care delivery network has allowed efficient sharing of resources, from PPE to staff, to assure we deliver the best care possible.
If you’ve ever been a patient of MedStar Health, you know that your providers care about you like family. We celebrate and share the joy when patients are discharged and able to go home. During this pandemic, our associates have planned weddings and birthday celebrations and helped facilitate virtual web meetings between patients and their families. They’ve responded and adapted to constant change and embraced the best-known standards of care. They have been diligent about cleanliness, assuring our facility is always clean and ready for patients.
We know this has been a difficult time for our patients, especially with the suspension of visitation. We hope we’ve provided some measure of warmth and compassion in the absence of families and loved ones. And we’re grateful to those who chose our Hospital Center to provide that care.
I know I’m biased. But I love this hospital and trust our providers and caregivers to keep our patients safe and well cared for. We will always be here for you, whenever you need us.