ON THE FRONT LINES
March 23, 2020
Notre Dame alumni in the health care field are working overtime in the face of a global pandemic.
Mike Slubowski ND’72 is president and chief executive officer of Trinity Health, one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the United States, serving more than 30 million people across 22 states from 92 hospitals and 106 continuing care locations. If anyone sees the big picture of the COVID-19 crisis, it's him.
"Currently it appears that the number of 'persons under investigation,' or in other words, those suspected of having COVID-19 but awaiting test results, is at least doubling every day across our national system," he said. "In fact, some of our own employees are now quarantined due to exposures."
He noted late last week that as of then the "surge" hadn't hit yet, but the numbers are growing.
"Our people have been working 24/7 on this, but there are things that concern me," he said. "My biggest worry is having enough personal protective equipment (masks, face shields, gowns, etc.) to keep our caregivers safe. Second, is rapidly redesigning our delivery system to separate 'well' care from 'sick' care so that people with chronic conditions have access to care. Third, is ramping up telehealth. And fourth is securing available federal, state and local funding to help support the investment we are making in 'surge' capacity."
Amy Kuechenmeister NDP'99 is an ER physician in Lansing. She's on the front lines of the crisis and said COVID-19 is a unique virus because its severity is so unpredictable.
"We have had young, healthy patients with nothing but a travel history who end up on a ventilator," she said. "Since we do not know who simply carries the virus without symptoms, and who could have a life-threatening outcome, the imposed quarantine becomes paramount in helping health care professionals battle this virus. Our hope is to limit the spread so that our overloaded emergency departments are able to treat every patient — whether it's a myocardial infarction, a surgical abdomen, an asthma attack, or a COVID respiratory distress patient — with maximum efficiency and safety."
Kuechenmeister also said that even though everyone feels a bit helpless in situations like this, the local community can play a part by exercising social distancing.
"In addition, if you develop symptoms but don't have acute respiratory distress or any medical cofounders, please call your local emergency room for details prior to showing up at the ER," she said. "Many ERs have screening tents outside the hospital to keep stable symptomatic patients separate from our most vulnerable. We thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts for taking this seriously and flattening the curve so that we can focus on preventing the spread, decreasing the case load, and decreasing mortality for our communities."
Peter McCanna PC'79, president of Baylor Scott & White Health, the largest not-for-profit health care system in Texas, cautions that everyone needs to be responsible and informed.
"As individuals, our greatest responsibility is to others," he said. "Persons under 30 generally exhibit only mild symptoms of the virus, but you could be the source of infection to a person who is at high risk of serious conditions. I strongly urge all to follow the precautions that the CDC recommends."
For Dr. Kyle Jackson NDP'99, who specializes in pediatric hematology/oncology at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, he says he sometimes feels like a soldier might feel when they are called to war after studying military history.
"On one hand, nobody really knows what to expect," he said. "On the other hand, I majored in microbiology in undergrad and then got a Master of Public Health degree in hospital and molecular epidemiology, so conceptually, I have somewhat of an idea of what we're facing.
"I mean, I take care of kids with cancer, so a pretty significant chunk of my patient care is already 'life and death,' but now it's that, plus an invisible, un-testable, un-treatable virus running through the population."
Jackson said hospitals across the country are currently preparing plans to draft physicians to the ERs and ICUs when typical staffing levels are insufficient. And like everyone else, it's the unknowns about coronavirus that concern him.
"But that being said, I know I'm not alone," he said. "I work in a fraternity of providers who have sacrificed huge amounts of their respective lives to get where they are today. Nobody ends up taking care of patients by happenstance. It takes a lot of hard work, it takes a lot of dedication, sleepless nights, food-less days, 100-hour work weeks, and a profound internal desire to help others in the face of deep personal sacrifice. So yes, I am scared but I'm not deterred. I have the confidence that we can come together as a profession and as a nation to control this disease."
Slubowski advises everyone in the Notre Dame community to follow trusted information from their local health system or from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.
"We as health professionals are following CDC guidance as much as humanly possible," he said. "And I recommend not listening to the hype or misinformation in the media or, worse yet, on social media. For each of us as individuals, thorough hand-washing and social distancing are the two key things that will 'flatten the curve' so that we don't overtax our health delivery system."
Kuechenmeister also said it's important to follow trusted advice.
"Please listen to quarantine guidelines to keep our communities safe," she said. "This is a virus that enables the entire community to be heroes, not just those of us on the front line. Help your elderly neighbor where possible with groceries so they don't need to expose themselves unnecessarily and reach out to those most vulnerable."
She noted that in addition to her fellow physicians, a huge amount of respect and thanks goes to the medical environmental service workers who clean the rooms, as well as the unit secretaries, nurses, mid-level providers, radiology techs, lab techs, patient reps, social workers, respiratory therapists and scribes, etc., for coming to work each and every day to battle this virus.
"We are all scared about bringing this home to our family, but those in the medical community show up every day for our community," she said. "I believe that's the definition of bravery: being afraid, but finding the strength to come through anyway. I also want to thank our communities for backing us up, canceling travel plans, and changing your lives temporarily to give us all a better fighting chance."
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three school are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.