Since March of 2020, the COVID pandemic has put an unprecedented strain on hospitals as large surges of intensive care unit patients overwhelmed hospitals. To meet this challenge, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) expanded ICU capacity by 93% and maintained surge conditions during the nine weeks in the first quarter of 2020.
In a pair of papers and a guest editorial published in Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing, a team of nurse-scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) report on almost doubling the hospital’s ICU capacity; identifying, training and redeploying staff; and developing and implementing a proning team to manage patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome during the first COVID surge.
“As COVID was sweeping through the nation, we at BIDMC were preparing for the projected influx of highly infectious, critically ill patients,” said lead author Sharon C. O’Donoghue, DNP, RN, a nurse specialist in the medical intensive care units at BIDMC. “It rapidly became apparent that a plan for the arrival of highly infectious critically ill patients as well as a strategy for adequate staffing protecting employees and assuring the public that this could be managed successfully were needed.”
After setting up a hospital incident command structure to clearly define roles, open up lines of communication and develop surge plans, BIDMC’s leadership began planning for the impending influx of COVID patients in February 2020.
BIDMC – a 673 licensed bed teaching hospital affiliated with Harvard Medical School – has nine specialty ICUs located on two campuses for a total of 77 ICU beds. Informed by an epidemic surge drill conducted at BIDMC in 2012, it was determined that the trigger to open extra ICU space would be when 70 ICU beds were occupied. When this milestone was met on March 31, 2020, departmental personnel had a 12-hour window to convert two 36-bed medical-surgical units into additional ICU space, providing an additional 72 beds.
“Because the medical-surgical environment is not designed to deliver an ICU level of care, many modifications needed to be made and the need for distancing only added to the difficulties,” said senior author Susan DeSanto-Madeya, PhD, RN, FAAN, a Beth Israel Hospital Nurses Alumna Association endowed nurse scientist. “Many of these rooms were originally designed for patient privacy and quiet, but a key safety element in critical care is patient visibility, so we modified the spaces to accommodate ICU workflow.”
Modifications included putting windows in all patient room doors, and repositioning beds and monitors so patients and screens could be easily seen without entering the room. Lines of visibility were augmented with mirrors and baby monitor systems as necessary. Care providers were given two-way radios to decrease the number of staff required to enter a room when hands-on patient care was necessary. Mobile supply carts and workstations helped streamline workflow efficiency.
Besides stockpiling and managing medical equipment including PPE, ventilators and oxygen, increasing ICU capacity also required redeploying 150 staff trained in critical care. The hospital developed a recall list for former ICU nurses, as well as medical-surgical nurses that could care for critically ill patients on teams with veteran ICU nurses.
Education and support was provided from . In-person, socially-distanced workshops were developed for each group, after which nurses were assigned to shadow an ICU nurse to reduce anxiety, practice new skills and gain confidence.
“Staff identified the shadow experience as being most beneficial in preparing them for deployment during the COVID surge,” said O’Donoghue. “Historically, BIDMC has had strong collaborative relationships with staff from different areas and these relationships proved to be vital to the success of all the care teams. The social work department played a major role in fostering teams, especially during difficult situations.”
One of the redeployment teams was the ICU proning team. Proning is known to improve oxygenation in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome is a complex intervention, takes time and is not without its potential dangers to the patient and staff alike. The coalition maximised resources and facilitated more than 160 interventions between March and May of 2020.
“Although the pandemic was an unprecedented occurrence, it has prepared us for potential future crises requiring the collaboration of multidisciplinary teams to ensure optimal outcomes in an overextended environment,” O’Donoghue said. “BIDMC’s staff rose to the challenge, and many positive lessons were learned from this difficult experience.”
“We must continue to be vigilant in our assessment of what worked and what did not work and look for ways to improve health care delivery in all our systems,” said DeSanto-Madeya, who is also an associate professor at the College of Nursing at the University of Rhode Island. “The memories from this past year and a half cannot be forgotten, and we can move forward confidently knowing we provided the best care possible despite all the hardships.”