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Chief Clinical Officer on Hartford HealthCare’s COVID-19 Preparedness

March 18, 2020

Dr. Ajay Kumar, Hartford HealthCare‘s Chief Clinical Officer, discusses the healthcare system’s preparedness during a March 17 visit with WTNH, Channel 8. Here is an edited version of the interview:

Q: Dr. Ajay Kumar, the chief clinical officer of Hartford HealthCare, is here to bring us up to date on how Hartford HealthCare is dealing with the statewide at this point.
A: As you know, we’ve been preparing for this for several weeks. This is an unprecedented crisis we are seeing right now in our community and every single day we evaluate ourselves through our incident command process to see what can we do better.

So we’ve done a lot of different things. We started a screening program across all sites of Hartford HealthCare, we created visitor-access policies. We actually made them even stricter and last week we also created a travel ban and social distance in our policy.

We opened a 24-hour call center. We also created a virtual health and telehealth capability. All of this has been done in a very short time to respond to pandemic. Look, we started preparing several weeks ago and our hope and our effort has been directed toward staying ahead of this.

But right now what we’re seeing in the community spread is very concerning. Obviously, the increase in numbers we’re seeing is an exponential increase across the United States. Even within Connecticut, it is going to be challenging over time as we continue to stay ahead of this.

Q: I know things are changing so fast. How is the Hartford HealthCare system doing with capacity, with beds available?
A: We’ve been fortunate. We started our capacity-evaluation scenario planning and backup planning several weeks ago, so we are a little bit ahead of the curve in that sense. We are, at least at Hartford Hospital,  have always been very busy. Our ICU capacities are always full and we have the same level at this time.

I have not seen a significant stress on the system as far as the ICU capacity is concerned, but every day is a different day. Right now, we have concerns about the number of patients who could be possibly COVID-positive who’ve been evaluated right now. Now mind you we’ve only had one patient in Hartford Hospital and throughout Hartford HealthCare who has tested positive.

Fortunately, we have a lot of negatives and we hope to see more negatives as you go forward.

Q: Are any conditions changing for your clinicians as the days pass.
It is a taxing time for our clinicians and our all colleagues across Hartford HealthCare — 30,000 of us are really watching this very carefully and responding appropriately.

We’ve been fortunate. Our process we have put together of triaging and making sure the forward-triaging happens and appropriate screening criteria. We’ve been we’ve been fortunate to not expose our healthcare providers while at least in the hospital setting. And obviously, there’s a concern about the community setting when is spread occurs. That is what we’re keeping an eye on at this time.

Q: How are you doing with basics like medical masks, the tools that you need to do your jobs?
We started preparing on PPE supplies and imagery assessment and management and daily accounting on that several weeks ago. That is part of our standard work to begin with, but obviously it became heightened for us during this crisis.

And we continue to have a good supply at this time, however, there is a shortage of N95 (masks) we’ve heard about from vendors and suppliers — even more so than I heard before. So in the next several days to weeks, depending on how the community responds with how the spread is going, we could face some challenges ahead for all of us.

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