Fighting COVID on three fronts

From the simple process of choosing the right mask to staging a mass vaccination campaign, UPMC in Pittsburgh applied new learnings to address COVID-19 inside and outside of its hospitals:

General masking. With the arrival of COVID-19, UPMC took a closer look at its mask strategy. “Meaning, how many people had been fit-tested for N-95 masks? How available were they? Did we have the best solutions?” said UPMC Chief Quality Officer Tami Minnier. “It’s not that we weren’t aware about this before, but we learned a ton during this pandemic about the degree of preparedness that needs to be a notch higher on an ongoing basis for our organizations.”

Contact tracing. UPMC took immediate steps to create a contact tracing app following the onset of COVID. “The rigors of doing contact tracing are significant. Many organizations give up. They hit a point in the evolution of disease and employee exposure, and quit doing it,” Minnier said. An unsustainable system is often the cause for this, she added. The app at UPMC has allowed the health system to stay ahead on COVID exposures and reduce or prevent outbreaks.

“Almost all of our employee exposures came from community events outside of work. There were very limited exposures within work. Our contact tracing app really allowed us to contain things quickly,” she said.

Mass vaccination. Long before the first COVID surge, UPMC had been researching ways to accelerate mass vaccinations, testing its approaches with the influenza vaccines. “Our goal was: how do we do rapid vaccination?” said Knox Walk, UPMC’s director of emergency preparedness. A collaboration between emergency management, pharmacies, employee health, clinical staff and leadership made this possible, he said, noting, “Adding in IT staff meant that we could change on a dime and expand some of things we’d been doing to capture the data.”

Once the pandemic began, the health system had a structure in place to mass vaccinate its employees and workers in nearby health systems. As of mid-February, all of UPMC’s 90,000 healthcare employees had completed their first dose and most had received their second. This reflects an 80% acceptance rate, Minnier said.

“We did not mandate it. We felt it was much more important to educate and encourage. We will continue to advocate to grow that number higher,” she said.

Other independent and private-practice organizations have since received vaccines from UPMC.

“We’re in the process of finishing up vaccines for an additional 15,000 healthcare workers in our regions who don’t work for us. We’ve also done the same with our skilled-nursing facilities, vaccinating 6,000 long-term care residents and staff,” Minnier said.

Overall, UPMC administered nearly 125,000 doses in eight weeks.

Minnier said UPMC is proud of its work, but acknowledged there can always be improvements. “I know that we could move faster.”

Like many other healthcare organizations, UPMC is waiting for more vaccine allocations from the federal government.


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