At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the halls are quieter than usual. Staffing across campus has been decreased to reduce COVID-19 risks. But a hum of energy comes from the campus’ central hub of activity and decision-making: the St. Jude Incident Command Center.
In the wake of the new coronavirus, the hospital has been transformed.
“We’ve adjusted the entire campus,” said Colette Hendricks, Clinical Operations vice president. “Facilities, access, screenings, vendors, eating arrangements—everything—and we had to do it in a very short amount of time.”
As the COVID-19 threat increased, St. Jude launched its Emergency Operations Plan. The Incident Command Team assembled to coordinate all departmental responses, as well as adapt and adjust to the changing conditions on campus. The Incident Command Center became, in effect, the center of everything at St. Jude.
“It has to be that way,” said Guy Joyner, general safety officer. “You need everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction.”
We have so many experts working to keep this facility going, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that difficult. We’ve all worked together so well.
Every day at the Incident Command Center has been non-stop.
“We’re trying to stay one step ahead of this virus,” said Ellis Neufeld, MD, PhD, St. Jude clinical director and physician-in-chief. “We have so many experts working to keep this facility going, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that difficult. We’ve all worked together so well.” Neufeld serves as the center’s incident commander and executive leader.
The Joint Commission requires each accredited hospital to have an emergency operations plan and practice disaster scenarios drills twice a year.
This disaster isn’t physical – meaning, earthquake or tornado – it’s clinical. That’s why Neufeld is leading the Incident Command Center.
Keeping patients safe from the virus is priority one. Daily messages to clinical, scientific and administrative staff keep everyone informed of changes on campus and issues to consider. Each message is sourced through the Incident Command Center. The center also manages other campus logistics such as signs to help ensure patient areas are secured and help with symptom screenings for clinical staff as they come to work.
“We’ve basically changed how St. Jude works and operates day-to-day in a matter of a few weeks,” Hendricks said.
Unlike natural disasters that follow a fairly predictable path of response to recovery to business resumption, this disaster’s timeline is on the virus’ schedule. Things change moment to moment.
“Each day is spent identifying issues, talking about issues and resolving them,” Neufeld said. “Then we come back the next day to a whole new set of challenges.”