MORE THAN A DOCTOR
A director who prepared our ER to fight a deadly disease
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as any primary care physician will tell you. But even in emergency medicine—where coolness under pressure and expert reactions are the name of the game—everyday planning can be extraordinarily lifesaving.
During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Christina Bird, medical director of the University Health Emergency Department, proved just that.
Caring for patients while protecting the frontline
Both the operational lead and an attending physician in the ER, Dr. Bird knew her department must first establish the space and a process for treating patients that kept staff safe. She divided the ER facility into respiratory and non-respiratory sides, and nurses were assigned to one or the other for the duration of the pandemic to limit the spread of infection. Next, should a surge come as it did in New York, an efficient triage process would need to route very sick COVID-19 patients into the ER while starting treatment for the less critically ill in a manner that limited exposure to staff and conserved PPE and other resources.
Ready for a surge
It was decided that a tent outside the ER was the best solution. To perfect the plan, she and other leaders walked through the proposed flow in the parking lot several times before and after the tent was erected. Finally, they held mock drills for the daytime and nighttime teams.
Even after COVID-19 patients began arriving, Dr. Bird says, “I never felt concerned about my own safety. We had our protocols and adequate PPE, we felt really supported by hospital leadership, and everyone in our department not only pivoted quickly, but were energized and ready to take this on.”
Sharing lessons with other physicians and hospitals
Dr. Bird’s staff intubated the first pandemic patient at the hospital and treated the first to have a cardiac arrest. Their experiences proved beneficial to clinicians across the region as Dr. Bird and her staff shared what they learned with both UH and the other emergency centers on the 22-county Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council.
“This is our job”
Thankfully, a New York City-type surge did not materialize. But had it come—or should it come—Dr. Bird’s confidence in her team is complete. “Their attitude throughout,” she says, “was ‘this is our job. This is what we’re going to do.’”
Just another day of everyday extraordinary.
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