By Ben Keeton
The COVID-19 crisis has hit Kentucky, shuttering many businesses and disrupting the way of life for millions of Kentuckians. Healthcare facilities, providers and companies across the commonwealth are on the frontline of this battle. Their response is saving lives, flattening the curve and assuring Kentuckians that we will be able to get back to normal when the crisis passes.
To look at Kentucky’s response to the crisis, Medical News spoke with a few providers and organizations across the commonwealth. This is by no means an exhaustive review, as we recognize that many individuals and organizations are going to great length to fight this pandemic. Below are the highlights.
Kentucky’s hospitals are on the frontline of this crisis. While many of our hospitals are having to adjust their operations and move resources that can be dedicated to this fight, all have been prepared with a crisis plan.
For example, Baptist Health utilizes an incident command system with drills at least twice a year that are based on real-life situations that could occur – ranging from preparing for bad weather, to dealing with a large influx of patients. To support and assist the hospitals, the system has activated its own incident command system which helps to coordinate Baptist Health’s response across its hospitals in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. These incident command systems have clearly established lines of authority and responsibility for each leader, ranging from clinical issues, to financial implications, to communication needs and more.
As another example, Norton Healthcare opened a centralized Clinical Command Center for the COVID-19 crisis that reports directly to system chief medical officer, Steven Hester. The role of the center is to quickly address new and innovative approaches to managing this challenge during a time of rapid change. The command center team ensures consistent processes and messaging across the system. All COVID-19 clinical decisions and communications come from this center. The Clinical Command Center is composed of a team of physicians, nurse practitioners and pharmacists with many years of infectious disease experience. They are focused on supporting patients and providing analytics, daily updates and care guidelines.
Communication is also a key component to handling a crisis. To help address the need for education around this virus and to manage the high level of requests for similar information, the Norton Healthcare marketing and communications teams quickly went to work creating a community resource page on the web site to address common questions from the public, as well as a dedicated COVID-19 resource section on the employee intranet.
Baptist Health regularly updates its crisis communications plan and shares it among key leadership groups. They also provide training to ensure leaders are prepared to respond in times of crisis with clear and consistent information that addresses the issues at hand. Crisis communications are coordinated so that employees are the first to learn of necessary changes in policy and/or processes before that information is released to the public. Each hospital has a communications staff member to ensure they can respond quickly to local needs specific to that hospital and community.
In addition, hospitals are finding new ways to see their patients in different ways. UK HealthCare launched a new telemedicine program to help patients with acute-onset symptoms they would like to discuss with a healthcare provider. UK HealthCare Telecare will function similarly to an urgent care clinic, focused on patients with acute-onset symptoms like sore throat, fever, cough, congestion, respiratory problems and more to get expert care without leaving home. UK HealthCare Telecare is staffed by an integrated team of board-certified providers throughout Family and Community Medicine, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.
Kentucky’s physicians are also serving on the front lines of this epidemic and will be providing care in many challenging situations over the coming days and weeks. The Kentucky Medical Association (KMA) is working to make sure its thousands of member physicians across the state are informed on the latest developments related to COVID-19, particularly as they relate to policy and regulation changes that impact patient care. KMA has established a COVID-19 page on its web site with an archive of messages and resources, which can be found at kyma.org/covid19. The Association has also streamlined its member communications to focus only on coronavirus issues.
KMA has been working closely with Governor Beshear and Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack, MD. Physicians were asked to submit suggestions and concerns about the outbreak to KMA, which are then communicated to Dr. Stack. The request generated dozens of responses, many of which led to additional insight from the administration.
Other healthcare organizations are also finding new ways to reach their patients during a crisis. New Vista, the non-profit community mental health center serving Central Kentucky is making myStrength, a behavioral health app, available for free to the community. This program will allow people with substance abuse disorder as well as mental health conditions access to resources while still maintaining appropriate social distancing. myStrength also supports individuals in recovery from substance use disorders to reduce relapse. myStrength offers personalized strategies, activities and videos to improve mood. Using myStrength’s tools can help individuals overcome the challenges they are coping with due to coronavirus.
Passport Health Plan has partnered with Stay Clean to provide Medicaid members with virtual counseling and treatment services for substance use disorders (SUD). Those struggling with SUD will be able to participate in numerous online support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. They’ll also have access to a repository of helpful resources and information related to SUD. The service will be available to members 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Stay Clean is an innovative cloud-based approach that connects patients with virtual recovery services. All clinical treatment is delivered by certified and licensed alcohol and drug counselors.
While there are many challenges to face with the COVID-19 crisis, it has demonstrated the benefits of working together. Baptist Health touts how the commonwealth has taken steps toward greater collaboration between healthcare providers, with groups such as the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council and the Kentuckiana Health Collaborative. They have strengthened collaboration with local, state and federal government leaders to ensure everyone is working together to meet the needs of the community. These types of partnerships will become increasingly valuable as they seek to raise the health status of those in the communities that they serve.
Norton echoes the sentiment of Kentucky’s healthcare providers to continue to educate the community on how to appropriately seek care; reinforce the importance of social distancing, cough etiquette and proper hand hygiene; and support the governor’s initiative to stay “Healthy At Home” and similar initiatives.
These are only a few examples of the work being done by Kentucky’s healthcare organizations to address the COVID-19 pandemic and address the health concerns of all Kentuckians.
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