Paul Kidwell, Senior Vice President, Policy at the Connecticut Hospital Association, spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about the Association’s role during the COVID-19 crisis.

NAN PRICE: How does the Connecticut Hospital Association help hospitals throughout Connecticut respond to this type of crisis?

PAUL KIDWELL: It’s important to note that hospitals prepare for emergencies on an ongoing basis. It’s one of the commitments we have to our communities, to have a plan in place for how to respond if certain circumstances present themselves.

As we saw the spread of COVID-19, first internationally and then in other parts of the country, we began putting those plans into action. This is at a scale we haven’t seen for a very long time. It’s not a typical type of emergency, like a big blizzard, so it has strained resources.

The virus has also impacted each of our hospitals in different ways. Fairfield County has the preponderance of cases of COVID-19 and, as such, their hospitals have had to respond differently than say, a hospital in Tolland County or in Windham County. Nonetheless, every hospital in Connecticut started its preparation weeks ago.

The Connecticut Hospital Association helps our member hospitals as an organizing body. One of the real benefits to the Association is that we can bring all the hospitals together to share best practices and information with each other around what they’re doing with things like staffing and creating space for more critical care. We started that process very early on. Not only are our hospital CEO’s meeting regularly, but our clinical staff, human resources, and certainly the emergency management staff are meeting regularly to help coordinate those statewide response efforts.

NAN: Can you tell us more about the collaboration efforts?

PAUL: There’s a real regional commitment between hospitals to help each other understand the needs of neighboring hospitals. What are the supply needs? What are the beds needs? What are the staff needs?

We’re all in this together and that requires a regional and statewide approach to managing the current situation. Our hospitals have embraced that they need each other to effectively respond to the pandemic. We have member hospitals working together to manage cases in a region. That’s been a really positive result from all of this.

Another thing to recognize is the work the hospital community has done directly with the state and the governor’s office and the very early, frequent, ongoing communication between the government and the hospitals in managing the hospitals’ needs. In terms of collaboration, that communication has been absolutely essential.

NAN: How do hospitals initially respond when a pandemic of this magnitude is taking place?

PAUL: In this case, it’s meant some pretty dramatic changes at our hospitals. We’re no longer doing nonessential surgeries, to preserve space for COVID-19 patients but also to help preserve personal protection equipment (PPE).

Additionally, COVID-19 patients have a higher level of acuity than most of our other patients. The rise in the number of COVID-19 patients could have quickly overwhelmed our critical care capacity. Our hospitals started to build out additional critical care capacity, so when those patients came in, we were prepared to treat them. We took measures to convert normal bed space and those types of areas of the hospital into critical care areas.

Also, hospitals aren’t necessarily staffed to immediately deal with a pandemic like this. Through training and movement of staff within the hospitals, we’ve had to reorient staff into some of those more critical care areas to ensure we’re maintaining that quality care for those patients.

Another thing we’ve really engaged in is setting up alternate COVID-19 testing sites across the state, so there is a place for people to come to get tested. Testing has definitely been a challenge, because the availability of the swabs and the ability to run the tests in the early days was limited.

We still have some issues with supplies, because of the national demand. However, our testing capacity is getting better and we’re able to get test results more quickly than we were in the initial days, which is really beneficial. It gives us a better idea of the positive cases out there and the more rapid testing helps us conserve some of that PPE because, when someone comes in and we’re not sure whether they’re positive for COVID-19, we’re taking the precaution and treating them as if they are. The sooner we can determine that they’re not positive, the better off we are with our PPE.

NAN: Is this pandemic just larger than anything anyone has ever anticipated? Is that why there’s such a shortage of everything?

PAUL: It’s due to the nature of the virus more than anything. Certainly, this is different than anything we’ve seen in a long time. We’re dealing with a virus that’s transmittable to people very rapidly. Also, hospitals are being affected by symptomatic patients who need hospitalization. Their symptoms are very acute, so they need a higher level of care than in normal times, which can easily overwhelm a hospital’s critical care capacity. However, our hospitals have responded quickly in understanding that need and setting up the critical care units these patients require.

NAN: What else do we need to know about the Association’s response to COVID-19?

PAUL: As hospitals, we’re immensely proud of our workers. It’s important to recognize the critical work they’re doing managing the pandemic in the hospitals. It’s also important to recognize that, like the rest of us, their lives have been upended. They’re also managing households and families—in some cases, being quarantine from them—and the uncertainties of our current situation. They’re not just extraordinary for doing their jobs, they’re extraordinary for maintaining that balance in their lives.