Johns Hopkins Medicine: It Takes a Community to Fight a Pandemic

In our roles as leaders at Johns Hopkins Medicine, we often make it a point to highlight the importance of teamwork within our organization. Every job is essential in ensuring our ability to care for patients and respond effectively to the needs of our community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of our tripartite mission of patient care, research and education, we have focused on how to serve as a resource for our local communities, our nation and the world during this public health crisis. Johns Hopkins experts continue to provide education and training, to share a data repository that’s used worldwide, to work toward vaccine development, and to care for COVID-positive patients while also ensuring continuity of services beyond those related to the novel coronavirus.

But as part of a greater community, we know that a pandemic of this magnitude is impossible for any one organization to manage alone. A successful pandemic response requires collaboration among individuals and organizations from the public and private sectors as never before. We’ve had to coordinate our efforts across ZIP codes and state and county lines, taking care of all segments of our communities and mindfully protecting our most vulnerable individuals, families and communities.

[See: A Look at Hospitals, Health Care Workers Fighting the Coronavirus Pandemic.]

In Maryland, we had been seeing a significant decline in the number of COVID-19- related hospitalizations and a slowing of new cases, but at the time of this writing, we are experiencing an uptick in new cases and hospitalizations. These changes reflect the dynamic nature of the pandemic and the need to reinforce the importance of masking, physical distancing and handwashing. At the state and local levels, government officials and representatives from the private sector have been partnering, sharing resources and data to manage our pandemic response.

Early on, after the COVID-19 crisis achieved pandemic status, here in the city of Baltimore, we formed a public-private partnership that has since expanded to include representatives from state and city government, Johns Hopkins Medicine, University of Maryland Medical System, local hospitals and CareFirst. Our goal: to identify key areas of focus that would help us manage the identification and flow of COVID-19 patients within the city and state while working to stem the spread of the disease.

[Read: Mayo Clinic CEO: We Mustn’t Go Back to Business as Usual After the Pandemic]

This requires a different mindset than before. We all agreed to push competition to the wayside. During times such as this, the best strategy is joining forces, with everyone bringing their best and finest to the table to take care of the people in our collective community.

We knew that without targeted interventions, Baltimore had the potential to become a coronavirus transmission hot spot. The risk factors are all there, including communities with a high prevalence of chronic conditions and many living in poverty. With two academic medical centers and many hospitals and health care facilities within the city, we agreed that our best opportunity was to partner and to approach this unprecedented crisis together.

We identified three primary areas of focus: data integration, managing special populations and communications. By focusing on these three workstreams, we’ve been able to manage the flow of potential and confirmed cases throughout Baltimore and counties within Maryland. To this end, we have:

— Created a unified phone triage system to route COVID-19 related calls;

— Set up an infrastructure to manage patients with COVID-19 in a holistic way, to prevent burdening any one facility or organization;

— Identified coronavirus hot spots within the city early on and have developed localized testing sites and culturally competent, targeted educational campaigns to increase knowledge of how to prevent getting, or spreading, COVID-19;

— Created targeted interventions for special populations, including nursing home residents and staff, individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and individuals who are incarcerated;

— We partnered to stand up the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital, an inpatient facility for COVID-19 patients. This 250-bed, state-licensed facility is jointly run by Johns Hopkins Medicine and University of Maryland Medical System;

— We continue to identify areas that could become hot spots and are standing up localized testing sites. We have also launched our mobile testing strategy.

[Read: How the Pandemic Is Changing the Way Hospitals Care for Patients]

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure organizational sustainability, so that we can hand off strong, healthy organizations to carry our mission forward to further advance the health and well-being of future generations. As neighbors, and as part of a greater community, it is imperative we — the decision-makers for the public and private sectors — realize that our collective future is dependent upon the choices we make at this crossroad. It is imperative that we approach reopening our communities and businesses with a focus on the safety of the citizens we serve.

May we all agree that what’s at stake is more important than any one of us, and may we make the decisions necessary to create a healthy future for ALL of us.

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