On the Front Lines of COVID-19
COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Reports of COVID-19 began in December 2019 and the outbreak resulted in a worldwide pandemic. By the end of March, cases had occurred in all 50 U.S. states, causing many cities to order shutdowns. In response to CDC warnings that widespread disease transmission may force large numbers of people to seek healthcare, resulting in an overload of healthcare systems, the St. Louis region cancelled large-scale gatherings and events, initiated stay-at-home orders and closed area schools.
Our team members at St. Luke’s Des Peres Hospital.
St. Luke’s activated the Incident Command Center immediately in order to prepare, control and coordinate our emergency response to the pandemic. Screenings at our facility entrances for temperature and symptoms checks were initiated to protect our patients and workforce. In an effort to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and to save lives across our region, St. Luke’s Hospital joined BJC Healthcare, Mercy and SSM Health to establish the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. The task force was built on the coordinated work from our region’s health systems, and governmental and public health leaders to ensure collaboration for the best possible patient care and coordination of supplies, hospital beds and other critical resources.
Internally, due to the rapidly changing situation and protocols, St. Luke’s Incident Command Center was activated to coordinate efforts among clinical and support team members to communicate the most up-to-date information and improve communication across our network.
Visitor restrictions were put in place to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable patients. Understanding the importance of family members and friends as part of the healing process, our team members provided iPads to our patients to connect with loved ones virtually when in-person contact was not possible. Nurses laminated photos of themselves to wear outside of their PPE so patients could see their reassuring and comforting smiles.
“St. Luke’s facilities are safe, welcoming and prepared as always to provide you with the very best patient-focused care.”
In an effort to protect patients and caregivers from the spread of COVID-19 infection, a group of St. Louis healthcare providers including St. Luke’s, BJC HealthCare and its partners at Washington University School of Medicine, Mercy, SSM Health and its partners at Saint Louis University School of Medicine announced the cancellation of elective procedures, which went into effect on Monday, March 23. Healthcare procedures resumed in June 2020 after St. Luke’s began a phased approach to resuming full operations in a safe and responsible manner.
Emergency Department Nurse Manager, Breanne Griffin, preps team during daily huddle.
Adjusting Policy Changes for Safety
St. Luke’s is and will always be committed to serving our patients and communities by providing exceptional patient-focused care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our team remained strong and steady throughout our response, including taking the necessary steps to ensure the safety of all patients and team members. In order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 within our facilities, visitation policies were revised, hand hygiene and mask policies were mandated upon entering the building, screenings were implemented and visiting hours were shortened to allow ample time for sanitation without cross-contamination.
Delivering Healthcare Services Through Telehealth
The COVID-19 pandemic changed traditional healthcare delivery almost immediately to reduce staff and patient exposure, minimize the impact of patient surges and accommodate our patients who were understandably reluctant to venture out into the public space. St. Luke’s responded to the changes by offering telehealth in the triage, evaluation and care for our patients. By integrating technology, we were able to provide necessary care to patients without disruption of services, while also minimizing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Telehealth allows patients to schedule appointments and visit with their physician remotely.
Opening Outpatient COVID-19 Testing Centers
In order to accommodate the increased demand for testing without exposing patients and staff to undue risk, St. Luke’s facilitated a drive-through COVID-19 testing service on the St. Luke’s Hospital campus. We continue to provide these testing services in our facilities and regularly reassess and adjust to fit the needs of our community.
Providing Education and Awareness
As a novel virus, it was important to communicate proper protocols during the initial stages of the pandemic to reduce the spread of misinformation. Signage was posted throughout St. Luke’s network of care to inform the public on precautionary measures, including appropriate hand hygiene, masks and social distancing in accordance with the CDC guidelines as well as to communicate new policies and procedures.
Our board-certified infectious disease physicians held frequent grand rounds to educate the clinical staff and support team on new advancements on COVID-19. To educate the community, St. Luke’s healthcare providers were featured on local and national media and created short informational videos and infographics on social media to increase the amount of accurate information circulating about the virus and its transmission.
As a leader in health education through our community outreach initiatives, St. Luke’s understood the need to immediately shift health education programming to virtual formats. By offering meditation, exercise and health videos online, St. Luke’s was able to connect with the community during stay-at-home orders when they needed care the most.
Infectious disease physician, Dr. William Campbell, briefs medical staff on COVID-19 updates.
Seeking Innovative Treatment Options
COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which has genetic similarities to SARS-CoV, the severe acute respiratory syndrome that caused a global outbreak in 2003 and 2004. Studies have shown that treating patients diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with INOpulse® inhaled nitric oxide therapy (iNO) can provide benefits. The nitric oxide gas is inhaled into the lung which dilates the blood vessels, prevents viral replication, improves oxygen levels and reduces the need for ventilation support.
In December 2017, the Lung Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital began participating in a study to treat patients diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis with nitric oxide therapy. Results found that the therapy widened blood vessels, reduced pulmonary artery pressure and improved both hypertension and associated conditions, including COPD.
Engaging With Our Community
St. Luke’s is grateful for the generous outpouring of support from the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to stay the course in responding to the challenges of COVID-19, hundreds of community members and organizations donated essential supplies, such as masks, financial contributions and meals to our team members. Area schools and residents wrote thank you cards and notes to our healthcare providers to show their appreciation for their service. St. Luke’s will forever cherish the community’s kindness and generosity. Thank you to our many donors who supported our COVID-19 response needs. Click here for the list of donors >
Robust Volunteer Program Remains Strong During Pandemic
As a nonprofit healthcare provider, volunteers play an important role at St. Luke’s. They help us extend our mission of service to each other and the community. Most importantly, volunteers demonstrate care and concern for those in need.
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many enhanced safety protocols were in development, our volunteer program was suspended. Many volunteers returned to our campuses in June 2020 to continue their service to St. Luke’s.
After spending 24 days at St. Luke’s Hospital battling COVID-19, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Dave Tenorio was released. St. Luke’s staff lined the sidewalk for his celebratory send-off.
The anthem that rallied the 1982 World Series Cardinals has also served special meaning for St. Luke’s. It is the soundtrack for the happy moments when St. Luke’s patients are discharged after recovering from COVID-19.