Kentucky Collaborates with Health Care Community during COVID-19 Patient Surge
In March 2020, the Western Kentucky Area Readiness in Emergencies (WeKARE) Healthcare Coalition supported weekly calls initiated by Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) from its nine hospitals to coordinate COVID-19 response efforts. In June, as COVID-19 cases continued to climb, the WeKARE Healthcare Coalition recognized the need to strengthen communication across the health care community to coordinate a more cohesive, regional surge response. As a result, the coalition took a series of steps to elevate situational awareness among hospitals, emergency medical services (EMS) agencies, emergency management, and other key partners.
First, the collaborative effort of the WeKARE Healthcare Coalition regional hospitals increased the frequency of its meetings with hospital CEOs to occur on a weekly basis and extended the invitation to include hospital chief medical officers (CMOs) as well as emergency management directors, EMS directors, and representatives from local public health agencies. In coordination with these meetings, participants received a “Daily Hospital Snapshot” detailing the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, bed availability, and ventilator usage. This one-page snapshot provided an additional level of transparency regarding the capacity of each facility and allowed hospitals to anticipate their own needs ahead of patient surge events.
Over time, the WeKARE Healthcare Coalition observed diminishing bed availability in its health care facilities alongside a disconnect in the patient transfer process. To address this challenge, the coalition developed an EMS Hospital Bed Availability Snapshot to inform patient transfer crews which facilities are appropriate to transfer to when they approach capacity. The Snapshot provides updated ICU loads for each individual hospital, allowing EMS agencies to identify which facilities have the capacity to take on additional patients in an effort to manage surge conditions. The development of this document strengthened relationships with EMS agencies and, when combined with routine coalition surge tests and the WeKARE Coalition’s COVID-19 Surge Plan, will allow hospital personnel to better adapt to future patient surges.
Finally, to further increase connectivity between public and private emergency response partners, the WeKARE Healthcare Coalition used an alert system called Ready Op to send mass texts to area hospitals and place EMS agencies and emergency managers on standby for patient diversion and transfer. WeKARE Healthcare Coalition has already taken steps to eliminate redundant communications in patient transfer with a series of drills with hospital personnel, ensuring partners are ready to respond and available to move patients quickly.
A combination of daily snapshots and adequate surge planning provided Kentucky with the tools needed to manage COVID-19 patient surges collectively as a region, rather than as standalone agencies. The WeKARE Healthcare Coalition and its stakeholders benefitted from this highly collaborative effort to advance medical surge capacity. Notably, private-sector involvement in emergency response, especially with senior-level staff, has been a key part of these surge-related activities. Enhancing situational awareness among health care partners was critical in fostering collaboration and coordination when a cohesive community response was paramount.