Rachelle H. Schultz, Ed.D.
Winona Health president/CEO
Less than three weeks ago, our lives changed in ways we did not imagine. On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization announced the coronavirus as a pandemic. On Thursday, March 12, we launched our incident command structure at Winona Health. Since that day, we have spent nearly every moment focused on preparing for the effects of this pandemic in our community. New information on the virus, new restrictions on movement, and ongoing work to shore-up resources play into our planning and readiness efforts.
State-wide collaboration and coordination
Daily calls and online meetings have been held with the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Hospital Association, the greater Minnesota hospital CEOs, and the newly formed Statewide Healthcare Coalition Coordination Center (SHCCC). The SHCCC coordinates the eight regional (hospital) coalitions along with long-term care providers, clinics and emergency services providers (ambulances) across the state and is directly connected to the Statewide Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), which is the state’s incident command structure. There is significant sharing of communication, data, planning, and response efforts across Minnesota, to tackle this pandemic in our communities. No hospital, large or small, can respond to this pandemic alone. At the same time, each of us must prioritize our respective community’s needs. I am once again impressed with the quality of Minnesota’s health care leaders, providers, and staff, as everyone does their part for their community and for the state as a whole.
There is no doubt that uncertainty and anxiety are dominant emotions and challenging to hold at bay given that much is unknown about the coronavirus. The patient stories coming from large metropolitan cities are deeply concerning, and the high toll it’s taking on physicians, nurses, other clinicians and support staff is equally concerning. For those of us waiting for the surge to roll through the Midwest, it is no less discomforting. But we have had more time to plan and prepare. And we are not wasting that gift of time.
Outstanding teamwork and preparation
Winona Health physicians, associate providers, nurses, clinicians, and support staff have all come together and been involved in our efforts for planning and readiness. Their innovative ideas come second nature as they problem solve every day. This pandemic poses new challenges; however, we focus on the important problems to be solved, think creatively, and disseminate information rapidly. This is what we do to take care of our community. And we are good at it.
We are able to increase our bed capacity significantly at Winona Health. We are shoring up our supplies and equipment. PPE (personal protective equipment like masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, respirators, etc.) remains a challenge across the country, but we have many PPE preservation actions in place. Our clinical staff are being cross-trained to multiple areas to help where they may be needed. We have already been using telemedicine solutions to conduct clinic patient appointments at home. This works really well and ensures many patients, primarily those dealing with chronic conditions, can still access care from their provider without leaving home. Given that we don’t know when the current situation will lessen, we want to make sure our patients can safely get the care they need.
Keeping you up to date and an important request
I have posted several videos on our website addressing key topics we get a lot of questions about such as testing, readiness, positive results and a community ask. You can see any of them by going to www.winonahealth.org. I want to double down on my community request to stay in place. While we have been preparing and stand at the ready to care for Winonans, how many that is depends in large part on individual actions to protect yourself and others. We have the coronavirus in Winona; recent testing confirmed this. But those tests simply confirmed what we already believed, particularly given the limited testing that has been allowed. It is also important to understand that 85 percent of people who get the virus will be able to care for themselves at home. The rest need some level of hospitalization; Winona Health stands at the ready to serve. That said, let’s work together as a community to keep this latter group to a minimum by keeping each other safe — it’s a matter of saving lives.
Looking to the future
I have wondered over the past few years about how, when and where the disruption in the U.S. health care system would show up. Like many others, I considered the impact of huge companies like Amazon, Google, CVS, and a host of others who targeted health care for disruption. It is of interest that our disruption comes in the form of a pandemic, something we did not see coming. No one did. But this is where hospitals are crucial. None of those large players can do what your community hospital does, or focus on our community like we do. Given all of the rapid changes we have made, the removal of regulatory barriers to care for people, and the lessons we will learn from COVID-19, it is my bet that our national health care system will be forever changed, and in a good way.