Unprecedented situation yields extraordinary response at YNHHS

During one of Yale New Haven Health’s virtual town halls on COVID-19, CEO Marna Borgstrom remarked that in her 41 years in health care, she has been involved in a number of crises, including the AIDS epidemic, hurricanes and Sept. 11.

“There’s no better group of people that I would want in a lifeboat than the people who work in this health system,” she said.

Most Yale New Haven Health employees and physicians have never dealt with a pandemic, but their experience with past disasters, flexibility in assuming different roles and responsibilities and dedication to patients have helped the health system prepare for and respond to COVID-19.

Working with local, state and federal officials and organizations, YNHHS has focused its efforts on reducing the number of people exposed to the virus, protecting staff and physicians and diagnosing and caring for COVID-19 patients in the most appropriate environments.

All YNHHS hospitals have taken steps to prepare for an influx of patients, including reconfiguring clinical spaces and implementing procedures to conserve and safely reuse some personal protective equipment.

At Yale New Haven Hospital, about 20 Smilow Cancer Hospital patients were moved by ambulance from the York Street Campus North Pavilion to Verdi 4 East at the Saint Raphael Campus. The moves, which were spread out over a few hours, helped free up North Pavilion negative air pressure rooms. Keeping air pressure inside these rooms lower than the air pressure outside of them, the rooms can help prevent contaminants – such as the COVID-19 virus – from escaping.

“I’ve never seen anything close to this,” said Melody Audette, EMT and transportation coordinator, who oversaw the moves. “We are doing everything we can to prepare for the most challenging scenario.”

Other COVID-19 measures YNHHS has implemented include:

  • Setting up a COVID-19 Call Center for the public, YNHHS employees and medical providers. The center has handled thousands of calls daily from throughout the U.S. and Canada.
  • Establishing the state’s first drive-up specimen collection center March 9 at Greenwich Hospital. Bridgeport, Lawrence + Memorial and Yale New Haven hospitals also established centers within days of one another.
  • Implementing the first hospital-based COVID-19 testing in the state, at YNHH’s Virology Laboratory.
  • Fully activating Incident Command Centers at all five hospitals, which coordinate with the System Incident Management Center.
  • Implementing visitor restrictions and screening procedures for all inpatient and outpatient ambulatory areas.
  • Expanding telehealth capabilities so physicians and other clinicians can conduct patient visits by phone or video, reducing exposure risk.

To update employees about the frequently changing situation, health system leaders have held regular, virtual town hall meetings, inviting employees to submit questions electronically. The events are also recorded and available on the employee intranet. Nearly 7,000 people tuned in to a March 17 town hall.

At the end of each meeting, senior leaders have expressed their gratitude for employees’ monumental efforts during an unprecedented situation.

“Employees in every department in the health system have contributed to our COVID-19 efforts,” Borgstrom said. “I am proud to work with such a talented and committed group of people. It is an incredible privilege for all of us to be in service during a time like this.”