Appropriate levels of fear
Emory’s hospitalists are communicating daily about a rapidly changing situation. “We get a note by email every day, and we have a Dropbox account for downloading more information,” Ms. Ortiz said. A joint on-call system is used to provide backup coverage of APPs at the seven Emory hospitals. When replacement shifts need filling in a hurry, practitioners are able to obtain emergency credentials at any of the other hospitals. “It’s a voluntary process to sign up to be on-call,” Ms. Ortiz said. So far, that has been sufficient.
All staff have their own level of “appropriate fear” of this infection, Ms. Ortiz noted. “We have an extremely supportive group here to back up those of us who, for good reason, don’t want to be admitting the COVID patients.” Ms. Ortiz opted out of doing COVID admissions because her husband’s health places him at particular risk. “But with the cross-coverage we have, sometimes I’ll provide assistance when needed if a patient is suspected of being infected.” APPs are critical to Emory’s hospital medicine group – not ancillaries. “Everyone here feels that way. So we want to give them a lot of support. We’re all pitching in, doing it together,” she said.
“We said when we started with this, a couple of weeks before the surge started, that you could volunteer to see COVID patients,” said Emory hospitalist Jessica Nave, MD. “As we came to realize that the demand would be greater, we said you would need to opt out of seeing these patients, rather than opt in, and have a reason for doing so.” An example is pregnant staff, of which there seems to be a lot at Emory right now, Dr. Nave said, or those who are immunocompromised for other reasons. Those who don’t opt out are seeing the majority of the COVID patients, depending on actual need.
Dr. Nave is married to another hospitalist at Emory. “We can’t isolate from each other or our children. He and I have a regimented protocol for how we handle the risk, which includes taking off our shoes and clothes in the garage, showering and wiping down every place we might have touched. But those steps are not guarantees.” Other staff at Emory are isolating from their families for weeks at a time. Emory has a conference hotel offering discounted rates to staff. Nine physicians at Emory have been tested for the infection based on presenting symptoms, but at press time none had tested positive.
Streamlining code blue
Another area in which Emory has revised its policies in response to COVID-19 is for in-hospital cardiac arrest code response. Codes are inherently unpredictable, and crowd control has always been an issue for them, Dr. Nave said. “Historically, you could have 15 or more people show up when a code was called. Now, more than ever, we need to limit the number of people involved, for the same reason, avoiding unnecessary patient contact.”
The hospital’s Resuscitation Committee took the lead on developing a new policy, approved by the its Critical Care Committee and COVID Task Force, to limit the number of professionals in the room when running a code to an essential six: two doing chest compression, two managing airways, a code leader, and a critical care nurse. Outside the patient’s door, wearing the same personal protective equipment (PPE), are a pharmacist, recorder, and runner. “If you’re not one of those nine, you don’t need to be involved and should leave the area,” Dr. Nave said.
Staff have been instructed that they need to don appropriate PPE, including gown, mask, and eye wear, before entering the room for a code – even if that delays the start of intervention. “We’ve also made a code kit for each unit with quickly accessible gowns and masks. It should be used only for code blues.”
Increasing flexibility for the team
PAs and NPs in other locations are also exploring opportunities for gearing up to play larger roles in hospital care in the current crisis situation. The American Association of Physician Assistants has urged all U.S. governors to issue executive orders to waive state-specific licensing requirements for physician supervision or collaboration during the crisis,to deploy APPs.
AAPA believes the supervisory requirement is the biggest current barrier to mobilizing PAs and NPs. That includes those who have been furloughed from outpatient or other settings but are limited in their ability to contribute to the COVID crisis by the need to sign a supervision agreement with a physician at a new hospital.
The crisis is creating an opportunity to better appreciate the value PAs and NPs bring to health care, said Tracy Cardin, ACNP-BC, SFHM, vice president for advanced practice providers at Sound Physicians, a national hospitalist company based in Tacoma, Wash. The company recently sent a memo to the leadership of hospital sites at which it has contracts, requesting suspension of the hospitals’ requirements for a daily physician supervisory visit for APPs – which can be a hurdle when trying to leverage all hands on deck in the crisis.
NPs and PAs are stepping up and volunteering for COVID patients, Ms. Cardin said. Some have even taken leaves from their jobs to go to New York to help out at the epicenter of the U.S. crisis. “They want to make a difference. We’ve been deploying nonhospital medicine APPs from surgery, primary care, and elsewhere, embedding them on the hospital medicine team.”
Before the crisis, APPs at Sound Physicians weren’t always able to practice at the top of their licenses, depending on the hospital setting, added Alicia Scheffer, CNP, the company’s Great Lakes regional director for APPs. “Then COVID-19 showed up and really expedited conversations about how to maximize caseloads using APPs and about the fear of failing patients due to lack of capacity.”
In several locales, Sound Physicians is using quarantined providers to do telephone triage, or staffing ICUs with APPs backed up by telemedicine. “In APP-led ICUs, where the nurses are leading, they are intubating patients, placing central lines, things we weren’t allowed to do before,” Ms. Scheffer said.