“We will never forget the lives lost,” James C. Leonard, MD, chief executive officer, Carle Health said. “As healthcare providers and as community members, we’ve all been impacted by this virus in different ways. This pandemic was thrust upon us but through every change, increasing infection and all the unknowns, we stood strong together. There are still challenging times ahead, but I believe that together we can move forward and be the support our communities need and deserve.”
Our greatest accomplishment through this pandemic is the number of patients who were able to return home from our hospitals. With approximately 1,760 patients admitted for COVID-19, our commitment resulted in more than 1,435 discharged community members to date.*
Time of Remembrance
On Monday, March 15, Carle Health team members will honor those lost to and impacted by COVID-19 this past year. Reflections will take place within departments or by stepping outside.
While there is no way to fully understand the impact COVID-19 has had on each of us, marking the occasion offers a chance for us to find avenues of collective support. Through this past year, we’ve appreciated one clear message – that by standing together, we stand stronger.
Planning and Preparation
In our efforts to put the wellbeing of patients, members and communities first, employees pivoted quickly and efficiently to accommodate the new care and safety measures implemented.
“When COVID-19 reached our region, teams came together immediately and began to design new approaches to our work,” Matthew Kolb, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Carle Health said. “Throughout, our primary question and concern has been, how do we ensure that our team members are in the best and safest possible position to provide care to patients? Masks and other PPE became commonplace, patient and visitor flow were coordinated, temperatures checked, non-urgent procedures were deferred and rescheduled and screening tents constructed to reflect these modifications.”
It was a time of rapid action, constant adjustment and communication to keep patients informed.
Our organization had the foresight to begin preparing months in advance of any COVID-19 detection in the region. Leaders enacted the Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) and our Pandemic Plan updated. We collaborated with local public health departments, regional healthcare peer, and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) following Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance for best practices.
Proactively preparing for a pandemic supported our system’s ability to have a timely and effective response when the time came. Although the proportion and complexity was unforeseen, our collaborative community partnerships provided resources to various scenarios and helped us provide much needed care.
With our focus never deviating from patient care yet not knowing patient, member and employee needs ahead, Carle Health adjusted operations and planned for the unknown. In doing so, our community accomplished significant achievements. Some of those include:
- Operations developed a hospital surge plan, which would allow for over 700 beds at Carle Foundation Hospital and plans for a second external location to provide 600 additional beds.
- The majority of non-clinical employees moved to work from home status and Carle reassigned many clinical team members to different roles to continue meeting patient needs.
- Carle led the community’s testing efforts in early March 2020 when supplies, equipment and personnel were limited. The State of Illinois designated Carle Foundation Hospital as a community surveillance testing to help understand the true extent of the viruses spread in our community.
- The Patient Contact Center created the COVID-19 Hotline and, over the past year, more than 217,400 calls have come through the hotline providing information on symptoms, testing and care.
- Carle.org established a COVID-19 page with timely updates, online assessment tool, an instant messaging “chatbot” application and vaccine information.
- With the help of equipment and staff from the University of Illinois, Carle continued to lead in community testing processing nearly 3,500 tests a day with results in less than 48 hours at the height of the pandemic. In the past year, more than 4,000 COVID-19 tests have been processed providing prompt information for patients.
- Virtual visits had a transformative shift propelling virtual care to the forefront. In the past year, approximately 22% of all ambulatory encounters have been virtual and more than 25% of primary care and behavioral health providers moved to virtual encounters.
- Carle patients receive the latest treatment offerings to assist those with COVID-19 on their road to recovery.
- Our partnership with University of Illinois continues to have an impact specifically on the production of a prototype emergency ventilator – Illinois RapidVent.
- Continuing on our path to serve patients, Carle has numerous community-based vaccine clinics in a number of communities to help safely and quickly vaccinate people. More than 60,000 doses have been administered already.
Through the dedication to the communities we serve, it’s humbling how each has embraced our teams and their response to our efforts.
Carle Health Center for Philanthropy received donations of more than $166,000 for the COVID-19 Support Fund. We saw individual gestures of support with countless deliveries of food, cards, signs, gifts and gestures of appreciation.
We also stepped in to help each other. Carle Health providers and staff donated over $196,000 to the Employee Disaster Relief Fund to directly support team members facing hardships as a result of the pandemic. Organized volunteers also played a key role in sewing cloth masks distributing nearly 82,000 to colleagues and the community.
While we aren’t able to recognize everything teams have experienced or contributed to the pandemic effort, sharing accomplishments attests to our dedication and commitment. This past year has shown that, through the most challenging times, Carle Health team members have the tenacity and compassion to make a difference.
Carle is at the forefront of treatments and medications used to fight the virus, including two new treatments: Bamlanivimab and Remdesivir.
Robert Healy, MD, chief medical quality officer, Carle Health, says that while patients must fit very specific criteria for these treatments, those who do should take advantage of the opportunity.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, healthcare professionals and researchers have constantly been learning and evaluating new ways to fight the virus and keep patients out of the hospital,” Healy said. “These three treatments have emerged as potentially lifesaving treatments against COVID-19, and we are pleased to be able to offer them.”
There’s still much to learn about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on a person’s health.
“Many people still believe that this is another flu and that once you’ve recovered, you are fine,” Dr. Healy said. “However, we are learning that this is not the case. There can be numerous prolonged effects on the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain.”
Dr. Healy also said children and adolescents are not immune to contracting the virus, and experts are studying the ways their bodies react to it.
Vishesh Paul, MD, Critical Care, Pulmonary Medicine, said that most patients recover with only lingering fatigue. However, some patients with severe illness may be left with concerning levels of lung scarring and persistent shortness of breath.
Carle stands ready to support patients with lingering issues with plans to launch a COVID Clinic. Please consult with your Primary Care Provider if you have any health concerns.
Advancement in treatment and the development of vaccines marks a major turning point in our COVID-19 fight and while many are hopeful for a return to normal, some things will be forever changed.
“COVID has stressful and challenging, but it also brought out the best in our teams who rallied together to do exactly what we’re here for – to care for our community no matter what,” Elizabeth Angelo, DNP, chief nursing officer said. “And we’ve learned so much in the past year about how to deliver care in new and innovative ways without sacrificing quality.”
While it’s hard to predict the future, Angelo said it’s clear to hear some things from COVID are here to stay.
“It’s safe to say that telemedicine has made an enormous impact on connecting and reaching patients who previously may not have come in for care,” she said. “I’m hopeful too that COVID has placed a renewed focus on tried and true health and wellness prevention measures like washing your hands and staying home when you’re sick.”
The pandemic has also shed new light on the ever-pressing need to support mental health and practice self-care.
“Self-care is important because we are better able to manage life’s stress when we are feeling our best, both physically and emotionally,” Heather Hintz, director of Behavioral Health said. “It can be easy to forget when stress is high but your personal wellness is important.”
Hintz offers these tips for taking care of yourself:
- Set routines
- Go outside
- Stay connected
- Eat healthy meals
- Get plenty of sleep
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Contact a professional if your stress or anxiety gets to a level where you need intervention
*As of March 8, 2021.