COVID Chronicles: A view inside of Incident Command

Welcome to the COVID Chronicles. These are the behind the scenes stories from Kittitas Valley Healthcare staff at various points in time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo: Incident Command meeting at KVH Hospital (March 2020)

In February 2020, Kittitas County had its first suspected case of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and incident command was activated at Kittitas Valley Healthcare. KVH, was able to prepare their response to this possible case, while working with closely with the Kittitas County Public Health Officer, Doctor Mark Larson. At that time, all COVID-19 testing was being done on the east coast and it was taking at least a week to get results back. Thankfully, that first patient was negative.

Four weeks later, the Kittitas Valley Healthcare Incident Command team (IC) was activated a second time for COVID-19 response on March 2, 2020. This was done as leaders realized that virus had likely been circulating the northwest for weeks, and they understood the outbreak would likely change KVH’s day to day operations.

“The Incident Command Team is an assemblage of peers who check their titles at the door,” said Julie Petersen, KVH Chief Executive Officer. “Everyone is there with an expertise to contribute.”

Each of the members is in charge of an essential part of the planning to keep KVH staff, patients, and the community safe. When KVH staff think about the leaders within the organization, they often think of the administration team. This group is part of the IC, however additional members with expertise in supply chain management, environmental services and clinical care were also added to the team. The preparation for, and response, to COVID-19 had to include a larger team.

The IC team quickly went to work gathering information about the inventory and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), reviewing preparedness procedures, processes and communications. This team collaborates with the Kittitas County Public Health and other local authorities, with the common goal of protecting the people of our county as best as possible. They’ve been tasked with minimizing potential exposure to community and staff by ensuring employees and providers understand disease transmission and utilize proper PPE, among many other duties.

One of the first things the IC team decided was the need for a “pop-up” COVID-19 testing site. Luckily, KVH Family Medicine Ellensburg had recently moved to the new KVH Medical Arts Center, leaving the old “Valley Clinic” space available. The first patients were seen in this walk in clinic on Saturday, March 7, five days after activating incident command. This clinic has proven to be an integral part of Kittitas County’s COVID-19 response plan. As of mid-July, 2020, nearly 4,000 calls have been answered and over 2,000 COVID-19 tests performed.

Kevin Martin, Chief Medical Officer said an untold story is the supply chain issues KVH has had throughout the pandemic.

“What we were promised and what we have actually been given are completely different,” he explained. “There was a lot of urgency for preparation in the beginning and since then it there has been a lot of strain in knowing what we have and what we might need.”

Morgan Anderson and her staff in Materials Management have spent endless hours trying to acquire masks, gowns, sanitizer, and cleaning supplies. As an institution KVH has had to prepare staffing and supply levels for the potential increase of patients, which took a lot of resources and planning.

“This has pushed us to explore capabilities I don’t think we knew we had, fortunately I don’t think we will have to do all of them,” said Kevin. “We have been fortunate, but at some point we will see some of it in practice. Hopefully we have over prepared, it is unlikely we would have hit the bullseye in planning.”

One of the challenges the IC team has faced, especially in the beginning, was how quickly the recommendations coming from the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Washington State Department of Health were changing. Signage and messaging throughout the hospital and clinics changed often, sometimes more than once a day.

“We’ve got a great team. They’re doing a remarkable job taking care of each other and keeping open lines of communication. The new normal might be, not knowing what normal is,” said Kevin. “We have to be adaptable, flexible and resilient.”

Rest assured KVH has been preparing for and are currently working to do their part to decrease the risk of transmission to their patients, staff, and community.