“We're re-allocating everything right now. There's a lot happening. If there is a surge, it's going to be all hands on deck.” -Dr. Nicholas Kreatsoulas

Dr. Nicholas Kreatsoulas was just weeks into his new role as chief clinical officer for the Mount Carmel Health System when the worldwide assault of the new coronavirus marched toward the United States.

“It was definitely trial by fire. It’s been a marathon run the past few weeks, I’m not going to lie to you," he says. 

Kreatsoulas came to Columbus by way of Youngstown (hometown of Ohio's health director, Dr. Amy Acton), where was an attending physician for hospital and palliative medicine at Bon Secours Health in Youngstown. He also has served as chief medical officer of acute health services at Mercy Health in Cincinnati and regional CMO for Mercy Health Youngstown.

He left clinical practice to take the Mount Carmel position and re-enter hospital administrative work. “It was a calling. Trust me—I never thought I would have been thrown into so many different situations when I arrived in Columbus,” Kreatsoulas says. He plans to apply for privileges in palliative medicine at Mount Carmel to help medical and nursing staff with the upcoming influx of patients.

He hasn’t been here long enough to meet in person public health leaders like Acton and Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts, with whom Mount Carmel works closely these days. He’d like to meet Acton some day “and tell her how proud we are of how she and the governor have handled this crisis for our community.”

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Kreatsoulas also communicates daily with the chief medical officers of Columbus’ other health care systems and feels encouraged by the spirit of cooperation. “I love it that such a large city like Columbus is able to work together like this. I’m just tickled that they’re engaging as well as they are.”

Of critical concern for any health care leader now is capacity to meet the incoming demand. March 24, Acton said there could be up to 6,000 new cases a day if Ohioans don't follow Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order. Hospitals in Ohio are at 60 percent capacity, but beds in intensive care units are key, she said.

That aligns with what Kreatsoulas sees. “Beds are a priority, especially intensive care beds.” By marshaling and conserving existing resources and creating new ones, he hopes physicians here will be spared the excruciating decisions about who gets an intensive care bed and a respirator. Medical specialists in Italy are facing those life-and-death decisions and have set up a triage system for allocating equipment.

“We are hoping and praying we don’t have to make those decisions. A little divine intervention is OK right now,” he says, with a touch of irony. Mount Carmel’s corporate parent, Michigan-based Trinity Health, is a not-for-profit Catholic health system with 92 hospitals and hundreds of primary, specialty and continuing-care centers in 22 states.

Kreatsoulas feels fortunate to have the larger system's resources and infrastructure at a time like this. He also feels now more than ever the organization’s mission of serving the entire community, especially the most vulnerable. Since the pandemic’s onset, Mount Carmel’s outreach efforts have been dialed into the homeless population it serves.

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“We have several people keeping an eye on the homeless and needy. They live in close quarters and are already at risk,” he says. Whether by social-distancing visits, phone or telemedicine, “we still need to take care of all our patients. We can’t stop caring for people.”

Looking ahead, Kreatsoulas and his team know they have to make contingency plans in the event of a surge that surpasses capacity. Though he wouldn’t discuss specifics, “We’re re-allocating everything right now. There’s a lot happening.”

Physicians and staff are doing their part in readying the system. “They’re asking great questions, and we’re trying to relieve any anxiety. I admire how everyone has stepped up and asked how they can help and where they can help, what can we do differently. If there is a surge, it’s going to be all hands on deck.”

Kreatsoulas sees the world in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic but remembers humans have survived other contagions. “We will get through this, and we may be pleasantly surprised at how things could change for the better” as a result, he says. 

Laurie Allen is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.