With intensive care units stretched to their limits – and beyond – during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitalists became more central than ever in orchestrating the response.
At SHM Converge, the annual conference of the Society of Hospital Medicine, two hospitalists shared how their teams helped to develop new critical care units and strategies for best managing and allocating care to COVID patients in the ICU.
“The pandemic has been a selective pressure on us as a specialty,” said Jason Stein, MD, SFHM, a full-time clinical hospitalist at Roper Hospital, a 332-bed facility in Charleston, S.C.
Dr. Stein explained how hospitalists at Roper helped create the Progressive Care Unit – a negative-pressure unit with 12 high-flow oxygen beds overseen by a hospital medicine team, with the help of a respiratory therapist, pharmacist, and nurses. Patients in this unit had escalating acuity – quickly increasing oxygen needs – or deescalating acuity, such as ICU transfers, Dr. Stein said. Cardiac catheterization space was converted for the unit, which was intended to preserve beds in the hospital ICU for patients needing mechanical ventilation or vasoactive medication.
Interdisciplinary rounds – to assess oxygen and inflammatory marker trends, and run through a COVID care checklist – took place every day at 10 a.m.
“Consistency was the key,” Dr. Stein said.
At Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, hospitalists helped build the COVID Recovery Unit, which was dedicated to the care of patients coming out of the ICU, said Vishwas Anand Singh, MD, MS, FHM, cochief of hospital medicine at New York Presbyterian–Lower Manhattan Hospital.
“The pandemic created an unprecedented need for critical care, and post-ICU care,” Dr. Singh said. “After extubation, patients remain very complicated and they have unique needs.”
The 30-bed COVID Recovery Unit – converted from a behavioral health unit – was designed to meet those needs. It was staffed by one lead hospitalist, 3 hospitalist physicians, 3 advanced practitioners, about 12 nurses and a neurologist, psychiatrist, and neuropsychologist.
The idea was to integrate medical care with careful attention to rehab and neuropsychological needs, Dr. Singh said. To be in the unit, patients had to be medically stable but with ongoing medical and rehabilitation needs and able to tolerate about half an hour of physical or occupational therapy each day.
The space was set up so that patients could interact with each other as well as staff, and this ability to share their experiences of trauma and recovery “led to an improved sense of psychological well-being and to healing,” according to Dr. Singh. Group therapy and meditation were also held several times a week.
“All this together, we thought we were really meeting the need for a lot of these patients from medical to psychosocial,” he said.
New York Presbyterian––Lower Manhattan Hospital also established a program called ICU Outreach to give hospitalists a “bird’s eye view” of the ICU in order to help move patients from unit to unit for optimized care. One hospitalist acted as a bridge between the ICU, the floors, and the emergency room.
The hospitalist on duty touched based with the ICU each day at 10 a.m., assessed the available beds, compiled a list of patients being discharged, met with all of the hospitalists and individual teams in inpatient and emergency services, and compiled a list of “watchers” – the sickest patients who needed help being managed.
The broad perspective was important, Dr. Singh said.
“We quickly found that each individual team or provider only knew the patients they were caring for, and the ICU Outreach person knew the whole big picture and could put the pieces together,” he said. “They could answer who was next in line for a bed, who benefited from a goals of care discussion, who could be managed on the floor with assistance. And this bridge, having this person fill this role, allowed the intensivists to focus on the patients they had in the unit.”