How St. John’s got ahead of COVID-19

JACKSON, Wyo. — Lisa Campbell certainly didn’t expect a global respiratory pandemic would kick off the year. But as a pulmonary therapist, the possibility is always in the back of her mind.

And when it hit, she and her department were ready.

“I think we’re stronger from it,” Campbell said. “We are prepared for the worst.”

Campbell is the Director of Cardiopulmonary Services and Specialty Physician Clinics at St. John’s Health. As soon as news of a novel coronavirus began spreading, she knew her department would have to prepare.

In the beginning, her biggest challenge was sifting through and making sense of all of the new information that was being released every day.

“We were really scrambling to make sure we had the most up-to-date, current knowledge,” Campbell said. “It was changing so quickly.”

Then, it was a question of infrastructure. St. John’s built a negative-pressure testing tent outside its Emergency Department, but also ensured the tent could serve as an extra treatment facility for COVID patients who needed additional support.

St. John’s employs 12 respiratory therapists who have worked around-the-clock to make sure ventilators are prepared, set correctly, and ready for patients. These are the caregivers on the front line. They assist with intubation, cough assistance, and “other therapies to facilitate secretion removal.”

“They’re right there in the thick of it,” Campbell said.

And they’re always on. At least one therapist is in the hospital at all times. They rotate in 12-hour shifts so that the department is staffed 24/7, and at night, one therapist is on call to support the person on staff if needed.

All 12 respiratory therapists got a refresher in ventilator management that accounted for the specific challenges and best practices of COVID-19 patients. Healthcare providers in other departments offered to step up and learn how to use ventilators so they could help if necessary.

As soon as COVID-19 hit Jackson, The Foundation quickly worked to secure more ventilators. But they haven’t yet been necessary. Efforts to flatten the curve in Teton County have been so far successful, and St. John’s is still able to transfer critically ill patients to regional hospitals with higher capacity.

St. John’s has “prepared for the worst and hoped for the best,” and so far it has paid off. But it’s not over yet. Campbell expects Teton County will see another surge as health restrictions lift and people feel more relaxed.

“We need to remain hyper-vigilant,” Campbell said.

If and when a second surge does hit, St. John’s is even more prepared. Staff is trained and ready. Campbell has developed a plan to test any cardiopulmonary patients for COVID prior to any scheduled aerosol-generating procedures and tests.

“For any outpatient tests that are considered aerosol-generating (where droplets could be transmitted), we are requiring patients get a COVID test. A lot of hospitals are not requiring it, but we decided to continue with those precautions,” Campbell said.

St. John’s also has a secret weapon in Dr. Haven Malish, a pulmonologist who spends roughly two weeks a month in Jackson. He is now officially an employed St. John’s provider, and his experience in critical care will be essential for treating COVID-19 patients.

But all the preparation in the world would amount to little without support from the community, and as always, Jackson delivered.

“The community here is amazing,” Campbell said. From donations to food delivery to public health protocol, Jackson has shown up in every way it could have.

“I’m so thankful to be here in Jackson. I think people are taking it very seriously, and that’s why we haven’t seen a surge.”

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St John’s Health

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