“First do no harm” is an oath that embodies the practice of medicine and our health care system. As corollary to this commitment is an obligation to keep people safe. This includes our professional staff, clinical and administrative staff, and patients and visitors. This obligation has taken on a special and heightened priority as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like health systems across the country, Tucson Medical Center has quickly expanded our use of telehealth in settings where appropriate. We have also limited visitors to our facilities and have implemented temperature checks for all individuals entering the hospital or one of our clinics. While many of our staff members need to be onsite to do their essential work, many of our staff can and are working remotely. And, as you will see in social media, we have implemented universal masking for our staff and providers.
We have also taken significant steps to ensure that we have the capacity to safely care for patients with COVID-19. We treat them on dedicated units with dedicated staff. We also have developed and are prepared to implement a comprehensive surge plan to dramatically increase the number of patients we are able to care for from our normal licensed levels. These plans include converting operating rooms and non-inpatient space into COVID-19 wards, working with other area facilities to absorb the surge.
It is also important for you to know that we have the supplies — including personal protective equipment (PPE) and other critical medical equipment — to care for the patients the models say we will see and to keep our staff safe. Just as our commitment to our community is to provide exceptional health care with compassion, our commitment to our staff is to make sure they have the tools, resources and training to do their jobs. At the same time, we are ensuring that our patients who are here for other issues such as heart failure, cancer, diabetes and more, remain safe from the virus. These patients, too, have dedicated units with dedicated staff, patients in private rooms and separate areas of care. When patients come to the Emergency Department, for example, we are triaging them at the door before they come in and then separating those with possible COVID-19 symptoms from those who are here for other issues.
One thing that worries me through this pandemic is that in an effort not to strain the health system, people are hesitant to access health care. Yes, we want everyone to stay home from restaurants, schools and other large gatherings to flatten the curve. But if you are having chest pain, signs and symptoms of a stroke, abdominal pain, or other urgent or emergent issues – please seek treatment immediately.
While my current name badge reads “CEO” – my life calling is as a nurse. I am on the patient care units at TMC every day talking with staff about what they need, asking them how they are feeling and, sometimes, crying with them after a particularly difficult shift. Know that we are prepared and ready. We are here for you, we will care for you and we will keep you safe.
Judy Rich is CEO of Tucson Medical Center.
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