Practice Management

Hospitalists helped plan COVID-19 field hospitals


Baltimore builds a convention center hospital

A COVID-19 field hospital was planned and executed at an exhibit hall in the Baltimore Convention Center, starting in March 2020 under the leadership of Johns Hopkins Bayview hospitalist Eric Howell, MD, MHM, who eventually handed over responsibilities as chief medical officer when he assumed the position of CEO for the Society of Hospital Medicine in July of that year.

Dr. Eric Howell was chief medical officer for the Joint Commission-accredited Baltimore Civic Center Field Hospital for COVID-19 patients, opened in March 2020. Courtesy Dr. Eric Howell

Dr. Eric Howell was chief medical officer for the Joint Commission-accredited Baltimore Civic Center Field Hospital for COVID-19 patients, opened in March 2020.

Hopkins collaborated with the University of Maryland health system and state leaders, including the Secretary of Health, to open a 252-bed temporary facility, which at its peak carried a census of 48 patients, with no on-site mortality or cardiac arrests, before it was closed in June 2021 – ready to reopen if necessary. It also served as Baltimore’s major site for polymerase chain reaction COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and monoclonal antibody infusions, along with medical research.

“My belief at the time we started was that my entire 20-year career as a hospitalist had prepared me for the challenge of opening a COVID field hospital,” Dr. Howell said. “I had learned how to build clinical programs. The difference was that instead of months and years to build a program, we only had a few weeks.”

His first request was to bring on an associate medical director for the field hospital, Melinda E. Kantsiper, MD, a hospitalist and director of clinical operations in the Division of Hospital Medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview. She became the field hospital’s CMO when Dr. Howell moved to SHM. “As hospitalists, we are trained to care for the patient in front of us while at the same time creating systems that can adjust to rapidly changing circumstances,” Dr. Kantsiper said. “We did what was asked and set up a field hospital that cared for a total of 1,500 COVID patients.”

Dr. Melinda E. Kantsiper is director of clinical operations in the division of hospital medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore. Courtesy Johns Hopkins Medicine

Dr. Melinda E. Kantsiper

Hospitalists have the tools that are needed for this work, and shouldn’t be reluctant to contribute to field hospital planning, she said. “This was a real eye-opener for me. Eric explained to me that hospitalists really practice acute care medicine, which doesn’t have to be within the four walls of a hospital.”

The Baltimore field hospital has been a fantastic experience, Dr. Kantsiper added. “But it’s not a building designed for health care delivery.” For the right group of providers, the experience of working in a temporary facility such as this can be positive and exhilarating. “But we need to make sure we take care of our staff. It takes a toll. How we keep them safe – physically and emotionally – has to be top of mind,” she said.

The leaders at Hopkins Medicine and their collaborators truly engaged with the field hospital’s mission, Dr. Howell added.

Dr. Eric E. Howell, Society of Hospital Medicine

Dr. Eric E. Howell

“They gave us a lot of autonomy and helped us break down barriers. They gave us the political capital to say proper PPE was absolutely essential. As hard and devastating as the pandemic has been, one take-away is that we showed that we can be more flexible and elastic in response to actual needs than we used to think.”

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