Dr. Ajay Kumar, Chief Clinical Officer at Hartford HealthCare, offered this update March 24 on COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) donations and surge planning. He then fielded questions from local media.
Daily, Dr. Kumar said Hartford HealthCare teams have been examining the system’s surge capacity and ability to tap “traditional and non-traditional areas” in the hospitals for needed patient care.
“We are comfortable where we are,” he said.
The system’s response to COVID-19 has included launching a central staffing office, a “critical step” to ensure the system is “optimized and ready to meet the need,” and virtual appointments. Currently, these are available for patients of Hartford HealthCare Medical Group (HHCMG) primary care providers and will go live later this week for Medical Group specialty practices to help patients connect with providers about non-COVID-19 issues while practicing social distancing.
“This is an unprecedented time for all of us but I’m confident we can meet the demands of the community,” Dr. Kumar said.
Being focused and thoughtful with screening is standard at Hartford HealthCare, where Dr. Kumar said drive-through testing is offered to those at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19 so the care is available to those needing it most and supplies of tests and personal protective equipment (PPE) are preserved.
At the same time, he noted that emergency department screening questions now include gastrointestinal upset as generalized abdominal pain, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
“Some patients are presenting with diarrhea which has changed our screening across our EDs as we work to stay ahead of the curve as much as possible,” he explained.
Statistically, he said there are 415 cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut, 10 deaths, 54 people in the hospital, and 944 tests taken with 113 positives. HHC has 11 confirmed patients and 133 more awaiting test results. The system’s Clinical Command Center (860.972.8100 or, toll-free, 833.621.0600) is fielding 1,600 to 2,000 calls a day.
Dr. Virginia Bieluch, the chief of infectious diseases at The Hospital of Central Connecticut, explains what type of personal protective equipment healthcare workers are using in the COVID-19 pamdemic:
Dr. Kumar then fielded questions from local media.
Q: What is the holdup in getting supplies? How many do you think you need?
A: We are not unique. This is a problem all healthcare systems are facing. The supply is made overseas and that has created delays. The number we need is difficult to answer because it depends on the number of patients we see. We have gotten donations. Anyone wishing to donate can go to hartfordhealthcare.org/PPE or email Coviddonations@hhchealth.org.
Q: You’ve rescheduled elective surgeries. How much space is that freeing up?
A: That’s a moving target but it generally frees up a lot of capacity. I’d say about 200 patient rooms.
Q: What have you seen for recovery times from COVID-19?
A: That’s a complex epidemiologic question. We’ve had four patients transition out and there are several more who have not required hospitalization who have recovered at home.
Q: With your drive-through testing, are there enough PPEs?
A: We have adopted a model of discipline at HHC. Testing priorities are inpatients, providers and outpatients meeting criteria. Because of this disciplined and thoughtful approach, we have been able to keep our testing sites open.
Q: How many staff has been tested?
A: We’ve tested about 25 staff members who asked to be tested and met the criteria. I’m not aware of any exposure to staff through providing care. It’s been community acquired.
Q: Can you have COVID-19 and influenza at the same time?
A: I cannot answer that at this time. The science on it is not clear.
Q: Have you received a lot of PPE donations? What’s the greatest need?
A: Yes, we’ve received donations and we’re very grateful. The needs are gloves, N95s (respirators), and surgical masks. All are in short supply. The new challenge of GI symptoms means we’ll have more providers who need to be in the right PPEs to help patients.
Q: If you don’t get the PPEs, what will staff use?
A: We think about this every hour of every day. But, we’ve been very disciplined as to when we use PPE so we can always be ready to care for people and our colleagues will be protected. We are in this for the long run.
Q: How long?
A: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I see it peaking over the next several weeks, two to four weeks. We won’t have treatment available until September or October, although respiratory viruses usually don’t thrive in the warmer months. But, every day we learn something new about this virus. I just want to stress that we have been thoughtful, have planned and we are able to meet all needs.
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