For RWJBarnabas Health Chief Executive Officer Barry Ostrowsky and his colleagues in the health care business, the COVID-19 pandemic is unique and unlike anything they have faced in the past.
“Our system right now, which has not seen the worst of it as of Wednesday morning, has approximately 400 inpatients across 11 facilities that are either under investigation and or converted to the virus,” he told NJBIZ. “We expect that is going to go up significantly.”
Ostrowsky said that there will be more testing capacity in the macrosystem to determine how many more people have the virus, and what percentage of them are going to be significantly sick enough to be hospitalized.
“We have organized ourselves trying to consider what that wave is going to look like. What our contingency plans are with respect to space and staffing and of course the infamous PPE [personal protective equipment],” said Ostrowsky.
He said his teams meet multiple times a day to ensure that they are using the right guidelines and making the right operational decisions that have to be made.
“At the end of the day, it is very much only at a hyper level. Very much what we see all the time is you have to support the front line staff who interface with the patients and who are truly heroic in what they are doing. You have to give them sufficient resources and you have to ensure that everything that is needed by the patient and their families is mobilized.”
He pointed out that it’s a little more difficult under these circumstances because they don’t have everything at their immediate command and control that they would like. As a result, they end up advocating for more and operating with less.
Leveraging what you have
Among his concerns, some of Ostrowsky worries are based on the modeling that he saw—because this pandemic has not hit its peak yet.
“Part of what you do is plan for that, and as you plan for it you use up a lot of emotional energy and so you have folks that already have expended a tremendous amount of their reservoir personally and we haven’t yet hit the worst of it.”
He added, “[E]veryone is facing it and health care workers are the best in my view and we will get through it, but it is a consideration as to how much you expend even before you meet the worst of the impact.”
He said the mask situation is starting to stabilize a little bit but it still remains an acute issue.
“Ventilators are an issue. You can safely use them to a point but then we have categorized our ventilators into five different categories. We are trying to leverage what we have. We can expect delivery of ventilators this week and next.”
Regarding hand sanitizers, he said that currently the system has a sufficient amount of inventory.
“It is difficult but we have a great team and a terrific supply chain. We are making due. We would love to have more because it would be far more comforting. But we are gaining on that problem.”
Ostrowsky said it is the human capital that he is most worried about.
“If indeed the worst of the modeling was to become a reality and the kind of inpatient burden that is predicted actually happens – beds and new hospitals – all of which is an appropriate set of plans – you have to have people at the bedside.”
Dealing with a unique situation
Ostrowsky said that what is most unique is the sheer volume of patients and the emotional level of the folks and the general public, and some of the remaining confusion about all this creates a unique set of circumstances.
“You emphasize the clinical and operational principals that you use on a regular basis and modify them to a certain extent, the unpredictability of what are seeing and then you look at these models.”
Ostrowsky said that the resources that a large health system can offer gives them an advantage in this type of crisis.
“The scale and scope of health care systems enable organizations to better face these kinds of challenges. And when the smoke clears these topics will be discussed.”