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Modern Healthcare - 2021-05-03

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Providers rework facility design and supply chains

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Ochsner Health has downsized from three floors of COVID-19 units to one, but the infrastructure will act as a buffer in future emergencies, said Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, medical director of infection control and prevention at Ochsner. While the New Orleans-based system had a pandemic play book to pull from with Hurricane Katrina and Ebola and swine flu outbreaks, it had to quickly build out isolation rooms last March that prioritized infection control and personal protective equipment rationing. When there isn’t a need for the COVID units, Ochsner will convert them to med/surg and intensive care. “We will have the ability to flex up,” Baumgarten said. “We are now discussing the tipping point of when to change a unit from regular use to COVID.” Ochsner also adjusted its PPE strategy. Last year, the health system relied on local producers of face shields, masks and gowns. Those partnerships will remain but the system also stockpiled equipment and is looking into other U.S.-based manufacturers, Baumgarten said. “People often talk about when we will get back to normal. I don’t know if we ever go back to where we were two or three years ago, but hopefully we take the lessons learned and continue to evolve as this situation evolves,” she said. “I certainly feel more hopeful at this point.” Meanwhile, Encompass Health, which runs 139 inpatient rehab hospitals, 241 home health and 82 home hospice agencies, went from using 3,000 to 4,000 N95 respirators a month to a high of 70,000, said Elaine Prince, vice president of operations support. The health system quickly ran through the roughly two-week supply of critical supplies at its hospitals. Encompass partnered with Medline to bolster its reserves, centralize its distribution centers as well as purchase more supplies from domestic manufacturers. Medline is now manufacturing face masks at its Lithia Springs, Ga., plant. “We’ve built in some flexibility,” said Prince, adding that Encompass is creating a full-time position for supply chain resiliency and vendor management. The industry should be able to move quicker, Baumgarten said. Ochsner and its peers had to work with state and federal agencies to interpret and act on new data on an hourly basis. They had to redeploy both healthcare and nonhealthcare workers to meet the demand. In addition to on-the-fly adjustments, the pandemic has solidified the importance of cleanliness, infection control and addressing mental health issues, Baumgarten said. Part of the evolution hinges on recognizing what we lost, she said. “We need to work through the grief that we didn’t have time to process—the grieving of people we lost and the way of life we had,” Baumgarten said. “We need to give ourselves a chance to grieve.” ◼

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