St. Francis Medical Center (SFMC) has been severely impacted by the surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of December, much like all hospitals in Los Angeles County. As one of the busiest trauma centers in the county, SFMC receives many of the sickest and critically ill patients from the region while effectively caring for urgent and non-emergent needs of the community. At the height of the surge, patients treated with the coronavirus regularly exceeded 150 each day. Since the pandemic began last year, SFMC has treated nearly 2,900 COVID-19 positive patients.
Dan Jones, FACHE, CPPS, chief executive officer, stated, “While the hospital is near physical capacity, it is important to remember that St. Francis Medical Center continues to effectively care for our community regardless of illness on a daily basis, and is well prepared to provide the most appropriate care while ensuring the safety of patients, physicians, employees, and visitors.”
Jones went on to state that the hospital continues to collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to stay up to date on the most current evidence-based practice guidelines and to maintain its ongoing readiness and response.
At the start of the surge, the hospital’s Incident Command System (ICS) was operationalized. The ICS is part of the National Incident Management System which guides communication and coordination of resources across, public, private and government organizations at a county level, and most recently, at a federal level.
In January, St. Francis Medical Center welcomed nearly 40 members of a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The team included doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMTs and other specialists who supported the St. Francis healthcare team for a two-week period in the care of COVID-19 positive patients.
Jones said, “We want to thank the DMAT leaders and the entire team, who represented healthcare professionals from across the country, for dedicating their time and talent to work alongside our medical and hospital staff. This infusion of resources provided a tremendous boost to our staff, who have been working tirelessly to respond to what has been an unending wave of patients. No one is turned away.”
The DMAT team was deployed in critical patient care units, including the emergency department, intensive care unit, and respiratory therapy, as well as in ancillary and support departments that provide vital functions in the delivery of patient care.
As part of SFMC’s early actions, the facility engaged in several initiatives to ensure effective management of the surge. This comprised securing additional physicians, nurses and allied health providers, expanding the physical capacity of the hospital to treat additional patients, including the erecting of military hospital tents, and working with the State through the waiver system to add additional critical care and medical beds. Like all hospitals across the region, SFMC follows State and County regulations and guidelines to effectively manage the crisis.
Through the hospital’s parent company Prime Healthcare, St. Francis Medical Center has ensured access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and necessary equipment throughout the pandemic. The ICS has allowed SFMC to access PPE to protect staff. A stable inventory has been maintained successfully through the appropriate use of supplies and through collaboration across the Prime Healthcare system and the county.
Although the COVID-19 surge has been challenging, Brother Richard Hirbe, fsp, BCC, MPC, director of spiritual care, affirmed the hospital’s values and the healthcare team’s commitment to providing exceptional care with compassion, dignity, and respect for every patient.
“We have all been affected by the virus in some way,” said Brother Richard. “Our doctors, nurses and staff are dedicated to providing care and comfort to patients, especially since family members cannot be at their bedside at this time.” To keep families connected, nursing staff have utilized iPads and smartphones to help patients communicate with their loved ones during their stay.
Jones emphasized the need for the community to remain vigilant in its efforts to slow the spread. He reiterated the practices that everyone can take to help prevent infections and hospitalizations. This includes regular handwashing, wearing a mask, physical distancing and disinfecting high-touch surfaces frequently.
In addition, Dr. Anantjit Singh, MD, MPH, FACC, FHRS, medical director, St. Francis Medical Center, strongly encouraged everyone who is medically eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine to get it as soon as it becomes available to them. Healthcare workers were included in the phase 1A county rollout of vaccinations in mid-December, and through an ongoing series of vaccination clinics, St. Francis has been effectively immunizing its physicians and hospital staff.
“We are all members of this community, and we have the responsibility to protect the health and safety of one another,” stated Dr. Singh. “Through our collaborative commitment, we will make measured strides to move past the pandemic and make wellness our way of living once again.”