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ICU in Front Lines Fighting COVID-19 Pandemic

The most critical COVID-19 patients at Highland were cared for in the ICU. The unit and staff had to prepare to care for COVID and non-COVID patients while keeping patients and staff safe and adjust to the ever-changing knowledge about the virus, its symptoms, and its impact.

According to Irene Perillo, M.D., medical director, and Janet LaBarge, MS, RN, CCRN, senior nurse manager, Highland ICU, enhanced communication combined with calm and confident leadership helped create a positive environment for staff to care for patients. “All our staff and providers are innovative and nimble by nature,” said Dr. Perillo. “They know that what is true in the morning can change by the afternoon, especially in regards to the pandemic, and they approach their responsibilities with courage, kindness, and flexibility.”

“The more we learned, the more we prepared, and the additional support we got from around the hospital put us all in a good place to face the challenges of each day and continue to provide the highest quality of care for all of our patients,” said LaBarge.

“ICU staff are trained to care for the sickest patients,” said Dr. Perillo. “Our staff was eager to care for COVID patients. Some stayed in the unit. Many of them needed intubation and were then transferred to Strong.”

ICU staff cross trained with West 5 to increase availability of staff able to care for patients in the ICU. “We had to create a plan in 36 hours to share with our staff and with each West 5 nurse on what care would look like if we had greater than 14 COVID patients in the ICU,” said Dr. Perillo. “That plan grew to one that would accommodate 50 COVID patients in the ICU. We trained, instituted a buddy system, ordered more equipment and monitoring and we were set if a surge happened.”

“Many people stepped up to help in the ICU,” said Dr. Perillo. “Surgeons, anesthesiologists, cardiologists, hospitalists, ob/gyns, APPs, nurse leaders, respiratory care technicians, and nurses from other units were among them.” Dr. Perillo stayed on call for 16 days straight to ensure consistency. Teams were created including ICU team 1, ICU team 2, a procedure team and an airway team. An educational program was designed so more staff could learn more about ventilator care. “We can’t say enough about the support of leadership throughout the crisis,” said Dr. Perillo. “We knew they had faith in us and trusted our judgement and would do our best for our patients and colleagues.”

LaBarge and Dr. Perillo are anticipating what the new normal will look like in the ICU. “Even though we can open up for surgeries we will still be caring for COVID patients too. We are committed to keeping everyone safe. COVID patients will remain isolated. We are confident in the systems we have created to stop the spread and we are also well prepared if Rochester experiences another wave.”

“The beauty of Highland is the community feeling,” said Dr. Perillo.  “Everyone here is very approachable and team-oriented. The Highland leadership team is very supportive.  It’s a culture where staff thrive and patients receive the highest quality care.”


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