Health Care, Public Health Leaders Share Lessons Learned, Path Forward for Facing COVID-19 Surge

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A host of health care and public health leaders gathered for a virtual roundtable to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and share lessons learned from the onset of the virus that are informing management of the latest surge. The conversation was led by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ director Robert Gordon and chief medical executive and deputy director for health, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.

Big Picture Best Practices
Despite troubling increases in COVID-19 rates, there are simple approaches that have proven effective in managing the spread of the virus across the board. Dr. Thomas Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outlined key tenets of a good response including reduce spread, stop cases and clusters, protect ongoing health care, and use data to drive progress. Frieden noted that once case rates are under control and continue to decrease, the longer it takes for case rates to come back up. Emily Martin, associate professor of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan, continued to reinforce the effectiveness of masks and proper use of PPE to manage spread. A promising indicator of this is the reduction of infection in health care workers treating infected patients due to the proper use of PPE. Further, Martin cited data that shows areas of the country with higher uptake in mask wearing have seen lower rates.

Supporting Health Care Through Communication
Delving into the health care sector in particular, John Deledda, chairman of Emergency Medicine and chief medical officer for Henry Ford Hospital and Henry Ford Medical Group, also discussed best response practices he and his team have developed since the onset of the pandemic. With a decrease in cases over the summer, the Henry Ford team had a moment to regroup and assess how to improve their processes. A key factor that emerged was formalizing a chain of communication from their command center through the rest of the organization. What their health care professionals needed was clarity, certainty, and consistency in procedures.

To that end, Henry Ford developed a comprehensive dashboard of metrics with concrete guidelines, benchmarks, and criteria to determine next steps. Understanding potential operational and clinical changes that may need to occur and what would trigger them has been helpful in allowing teams to stay continuously prepared. This approach is proving especially helpful in bolstering stockpiles and preparing the stockpile for PPE needs.

Looking ahead to this new surge of COVID-19 cases, Deledda anticipates challenges with having to run parallel business models of care as a full shut down like that which occurred in the spring is unlikely this time around. In terms of supporting its staff’s mental health, Henry Ford has focused on communicating transparently and managing expectations – that this pandemic is an ongoing journey and that frequent communication will help them navigate the stress of ever-changing policies and clinical treatment approaches. Further, they’ve established a network of peer coaches and mentors to offer guidance and comfort, letting team members know they’re not alone and have support when they need breaks.

The Education Ecosystem
In terms of managing the virus in schools, Martin notes that it goes beyond the classroom. Schools are just a microcosm of what’s going on in the community. Protecting students, teachers, and staff, leaders must think more about how the ancillary activities around school – like sports and extracurricular activities – impact classroom safety. In the K-12 space, Angelique Joynes, health officer for Allegan County Health Department, shared best practices her region has implemented. A key theme was the importance of partnerships and engaging the community. The department meets weekly with superintendents and offered schools a guidance matrix to help inform protocols and procedures that may be needed. Further, Joynes emphasized the importance of maintaining a flow of information and communicating this guidance with school boards and members of the community.

Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson and Dr. Norman Beauchamp, executive vice president for Health Sciences at Michigan State University, both addressed the higher-education approach to managing the virus citing key challenges like the adoption of health and safe practices and supporting students’ mental health. Beauchamp and his team have employed tactics like a student ambassador program to help inform students of the seriousness of this virus through a relatable voice, while Wilson shared ideas like a university-wide mental health day to offer students and staff a break from academic work. Beauchamp also emphasized that decisions are being driven by safety and core values, not finances or politics.

What Lies Ahead
While the helpful lessons above offer a sense of preparedness heading into another surge in COVID-19 cases, many unknowns still remain. The development and adoption of a vaccine will certainly pose new challenges for health care and public health experts. Wilson noted that despite decreases in racial disparities associated with the virus, that progress may be undone due to historically-informed skepticism and distrust of vaccinations. Hopefully, best practices learned so far will inform the productive, long-term management of the virus through Michigan and the nation.


Related:

MDHHS Virtual Roundtable Reveals Troubling Trends, Challenges as Michigan Faces New Wave of COVID-19


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