COVID-19: A Year of Extraordinary Challenge & Incredible Strength
How Baystate Health led the way, providing expert and compassionate care to a community coping with the global pandemic.
The identification in early January of a novel coronavirus linked to a cluster of pneumonias in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, did not cause alarm at first in the United States and across the world. Within weeks, however, the World Health Organization had declared a global health emergency, and the United States witnessed its first cases in Washington State. Prior to both of those events, a Special Pathogens Team at BH had begun meeting to formulate the health system response. The group, led by Dr. Sarah Haessler, was initially organized to respond to the Ebola outbreak of 2014. Warnings related to screening travelers from China were issued by the group, as well as recommendations for quarantine for those suspected of infection. When Massachusetts saw its first case in early February, it was clear from outbreaks in Italy and Iran that the coronavirus that caused the disease labeled COVID-19 spread with high efficiency and great rapidity from person to person. Shortages of personal protective equipment in other countries caused BH to centralize supplies and develop guidelines for protecting staff.
By the beginning of March 2020, the disease had infected 90,000 individuals worldwide and killed 3,000. At that time, BH organized its pre-emptive response under an Incident Command structure.
The Incident Command Team was led by Dr. Andrew Artenstein, the Chief Physician Executive at BH, who had an extensive background in biodefense and epidemic control from his years at the Walter Reed Medical Center. The group divided its work into the following areas: Employee Health and Safety, Staffing and Workforce Planning, Surge Planning and Hospital Operations, Supply Chain, Clinical Planning and Education, Community Hospitals and Ambulatory Care, Finance, and Communications. The group would later add a subgroup related to post-pandemic recovery. Leaders of each area met each morning and would then convene their work groups to coordinate plans for the day. Incident Command met daily, seven days a week, for over a month before its first day off, and they produced an organization-wide briefing by 11:30 a.m. every day that was read widely throughout the organization.