CEO of Children's Hospital Los Angeles: 5 standout initiatives in the fight against COVID-19

Each day as I walk the halls of Children's Hospital Los Angeles and greet our team members, I remind them that I am smiling behind my mask. I'm reminded that I have never been more grateful to a dedicated group as I am during this incredibly challenging period of time. We have all been adjusting to evolving policies and guidelines. While that has been difficult, our staff has shown incredible flexibility, patience and commitment, and a pledge to make each day better than the last. 

One of the finest examples is the Children's Hospital Los Angeles command center, which has been tackling complex issues to preserve our health and safety, such as developing onsite health screenings for every individual entering our campus including team members, faculty, medical staff, patients and patient families. We also have created onsite drive-thru and walk-thru COVID-19 testing services for team members, all inpatient and procedural patients. We also have recognized the importance of supporting our staff away from the hospital. I am especially proud of our decision to invest in the safer at home assistance program for workers who have exhausted their sick time balances and need time away after being exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. 

As an institution, preparation has been critical to deal with this unprecedented global emergency. Since I joined the hospital as president and CEO in late 2015, we have invested in fiscal stewardship and focused on building a strong financial foundation. We are now benefiting from those initiatives. 

As we look ahead, we are still in planning mode, which includes refining our pandemic surge plan and preparations if the safer at home orders and our new protocols push through into the summer and beyond. 

All the while, it is apparent that the landscape of healthcare, like that of society itself, will not be what we remember from just a few weeks ago. I echo the words of our Chief Medical Officer James Stein, MD, who leads our command center. He acknowledged that "this pandemic will create some change that may be less satisfying, but we suspect much of the new order we will embrace; with healthcare finding more efficiencies and serving our patients and healthcare workers better than we had. And maybe we’ll continue to have just a bit less traffic in L.A."

What I do know after these recent weeks, is that we are ready and well positioned to weather this storm. No matter how long it lasts. 

While our entire team has rallied in support of our pandemic plan, I wanted to call attention to several initiatives that reflect our values and have helped shape our hospital’s response to this crisis:  

1. COVID-19 Testing: Children's Hospital Los Angeles has had great success with developing in-house testing capacity and has tested more than 3,000 individuals thus far, providing staff and families a high level of comfort. Every inpatient and procedural patient along with symptomatic ED patients is being tested. The lab is sequencing the test data so it can track whether the virus is being passed along internally — to date, there are no signs that the virus is being passed person to person within CHLA.  

2. Serology Testing: The Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, which led the development of our in-house testing capacity, is in the final phases of a pilot for serology testing to identify if individuals have antibodies to the virus and could therefore have immunity. With this work, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is planning to collect plasma from recovered individuals who can give antibodies to the virus to others who are fighting the disease.  

3. Safer at Home Assistance Program: The institution launched a Safer at Home Assistance Program, which serves as a temporary safety net for team members who may have exhausted their sick time balances and need to take additional time off unexpectedly (e.g. because of being exposed to an individual who tests positive for COVID-19). The program offers up to 80 hours of paid time off for these team members for the period of the Safer at Home order.  

4. Best Together Program: This newly launched program pairs individuals at CHLA with a buddy who can help them attend to basic needs like shopping when they are on service. Most recently, the program launched a telephone service for mental health support. Team and faculty members can call the line, leave a message, and a trained clinician will call them back within business hours. Dialogues are confidential and supported primarily with volunteer support from USC faculty members based at Children’s Hospital L.A.  

5. Preserving PPE: Our hospital command center has made sure that we were out ahead on this crisis in every possible way. One example that stands out in my mind is how the center staff has helped CHLA conserve its personal protective equipment in the early phases of the crisis. Through careful planning, the center protected clinical team and faculty members while balancing the needs of patient care. Other hospitals ran out of PPE — CHLA has not — and it has been because of our command center's foresight and hard work in obtaining additional PPE that we have been so successful with our use at CHLA. At this stage every team member and faculty are provided a new mask daily.

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