OhioHealth's chief medical officer says of health care workers preparing for coronavirus: "I'm not seeing the level of anxiety I saw at the grocery store yesterday."

Columbus’ health care providers are on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic—restricting visitors, closing off areas and trying to keep their sprawling facilities safe while making hour-to-hour plans on beds, equipment and containment measures. 

OhioHealth Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff describes what it’s like.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime epidemic," Vanderhoff says. And while any epidemic has the potential to exceed the local health care system’s capabilities, he’s confident local hospitals are as prepared as they can be. 

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Vanderhoff says OhioHealth’s longstanding planning scenarios have included items such as bed capacity, equipment supply, training and employee burnout. For example, the system is looking into expanding bed capacity by converting private rooms into two-occupancy ones. For patients who need not only a private room but sterile air, it’s also considering creating a negative-air-pressure unit with portable systems. Postponing elective surgeries is one option to make sure ventilators are being used most efficiently, a move Columbus-area hospitals are making. And the system could move portable ventilators between its 12 member hospitals based on demand.

That said, "Resources are of greatest concern to me right now," Vanderhoff says. "We’re part of a global supply chain network, and this is challenging that. No part of the world is isolated." Furthermore, major supply sources have been at the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Our equipment and supplies are not inexhaustible. They require replenishment, so we’re thinking about how to make the best use of them," Vanderhoff says. Ideas raised so far include using non-disposal items such as gowns as much as possible, or using sterilization to convert single-use items into those that can be used again. "We’re examining all ideas with input from public health officials." 

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To protect the mental health of employees, he says OhioHealth leadership is working on staffing options and cross-training to mitigate some of the stress and burnout. Health care workers are directly exposed to the feelings and concerns of the larger community, especially during crisis, but Vanderhoff has seen a roll-up-your-sleeves approach during the past week.

"There is care and concern, but not that fear," he says. "They are worried about things they should be worried about. Our associates are expressing them and engaging in conversations. They aren’t idle. 

"I’m amazed at the people who’ve put aside their own work, including this past weekend, to give of their energy and creativity to prepare for the weeks to come," Vanderhoff says. That sort of action may offset some of the panic seen outside the hospital. "I’m not seeing the level of anxiety I saw at the grocery store yesterday."

In a time when events may reach beyond even the most-prepared system’s control, Vanderhoff takes certain comfort in Ohio’s proactive measures and the high degree of collaboration among local hospital systems. 

"We don’t stand alone. I think we need to feel a little more confident in ourselves. Anxiety is our enemy."

Laurie Allen is a freelance writer.