What we’re dealing with as a nation in this moment is unprecedented in modern history. We have fears about our health, our families and friends, fears about our jobs and our finances, and about what this crisis will mean for the economy. What will the world look like in recovery from the novel coronavirus?
One thing I do know—from what I’m seeing already, communities will be part of defining our new world. In the absence of strong national leadership, states and local communities are taking action, planning and executing, and along the way defining what it means to be heroic.
Hospitals across the country right now are planning and preparing and getting the supplies we need, to help us provide the best possible patient care in every way we can. At MLK Community Hospital, we are talking to hospitals in New York and Washington that have already experienced a surge of COVID-19 patients with serious illness that strained their health care delivery system.
We are preparing for what we know is coming, taking lessons of priority, innovation and courage from them.
The state has asked every hospital to increase bed capacity by at least 40%, and we are doing that and more.
We’ve stood up a daily command center to manage how we’re responding to the crisis. We are adding beds through use of alternative locations within and outside of the hospital. We are adding equipment, supplies, and staffing for those beds. We have added medical tents—field hospitals—with gurneys and IV poles at the ready, to triage patients with symptoms. We are looking at how we can use our new medical office building to house and treat patients.
Testing is also going to get better soon. We are repurposing lab space, creating our own capability on-site for COVID-19 testing. Once testing is more available, we’ll see more people in the emergency department, including higher numbers of people who are infected.
The most important way we’re preparing are the steps we’re taking to keep our doctors, nurses and clinical staff on the front lines safe, to protect the health of our patients, workers and their families.
Our most urgent needs are for supplies, particularly personal protective equipment for providers (called PPE). This includes N-95 masks, surgical and procedure masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, goggles, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. All of these critical items are in short supply. Many doctors and nurses are terrified that they will catch coronavirus from a patient and take it home to their families. But, they show up for work every day.
Because we are a small community hospital, we are in a lower tier for allocations from the national strategic reserve, which means we get fewer PPE items than larger hospitals (even considering our high patient volume). The distributions from the reserve are unpredictable, don’t include all items, and are not enough volume to meet the need.
We are pursuing supplies from every source at state and local levels—and our resourceful staff and our community are stepping up to help fill the gaps.
The silver lining is that this has become a time of innovation and creativity—a time of quiet heroism among a growing tribe of committed health care workers and volunteers who are working together.
An emergency department nurse at our hospital took the initiative to reach out to the Target Corporation—and received a quick response of nearly 6,000 N95 masks gathered from local stores.
Over 100 volunteers in South LA and across the city have mobilized to make gowns and masks for hospital staff on the frontlines. Sharing patterns, sourcing fabric and putting their mothers and grandmothers to work at their sewing machines while isolated at home is resulting in a valuable addition to our PPE supply.
Small businesses are coming to us with donations of their PPE–veterans associations, a tattoo parlor, beauty supply stores, construction and warehouse workers. Feed the Front Lines has organized among our local restaurants as a food drive to ensure that our first responders, on night and day shift, have nourishing meals. And our philanthropic supporters are funding local hotel and Airbnb rooms for front line workers to shower and change, or stay overnight, to help keep their families safe.
We are so grateful for this outpouring of support. It shows the initiative and strength of community. This is what strong communities do to pull through a crisis.
We are each doing our part. Those of us who are staying home right now are also taking a life-saving action, to slow down the spread of this virus so that our hospitals have the capacity to take care of the people who need it.
If you’re feeling sick and think you need to see a doctor, call your doctor first. Please take advantage of your health plan’s 24-hour medical advice line. These hotlines have doctors and nurses standing by to advise you on what to do. We’ve published a list of them on our website: https://www.mlkch.org/telehealth-services.
Most visits are being handled by telemedicine now. And if you do need an in-person visit, the advance notice will help protect you, your doctor and your community.
We are living through a historic time. There’s a lot of uncertainty, our routines are disrupted, and each day can bring a challenging range of emotions to navigate.
But amid all of this, there’s also something beautiful happening. We are taking collective action, all of us making sacrifices and sharing our resources, in order to protect the most vulnerable among us. There’s something very powerful and hopeful in that—it helps me in the challenging moments.
There will be many more of those moments to come for those of us in Los Angeles. The stories I’m seeing and hearing about assure me we’ll get through this together, as a community.
Dr. Elaine Batchlor is the chief executive officer of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Watts.
Share your feedback, questions, comments and stories with Dr. Batchlor at DrB@mlkch.org.