How this hospital is fighting the spread of misinformation during COVID-19 outbreak

On the border of Washington state, one of the areas hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, Astoria, Ore.-based Columbia Memorial Hospital is working all day long to ensure staff have the necessary equipment and information to keep patients safe. 

Columbia Memorial Hospital CEO Erik Thorsen is also collaborating with community leaders on the best way to deliver updates about COVID-19. He is also staying ahead of the curve when it comes to offering employees financial support. 

Below, Mr. Thorsen and Kendra Gohl, infection prevention director at Columbia Memorial Hospital, discuss the hospital's COVID-19 response and what they are doing to prevent the spread of misinformation. 

Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Question: What have been your immediate responses to the COVID-19 outbreak? 

Erik Thorsen: We have taken a very proactive approach inside our organization as has our county health department. We both have opened our emergency operations centers. During these soft opens, we have assigned the appropriate personnel to each of the sections in an incident command structure. 

Additionally, we have been meeting two times a day, seven days a week at 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. During these meetings, we are treating the coronavirus as if it is any other emergency or disaster situation, which includes monitoring patient volumes and evaluating spikes in urgent care centers and the emergency department. We have begun deploying resources to any department that needs assistance, and we are monitoring our personal protective equipment. It's been important to keep a close eye on all of our supplies. 

We are staying in contact with Kendra and our CMO on all the changes in the CDC, Oregon Health Authority and state activity. We want to deploy any changes on guidance immediately. 

We have also started to discuss any security issues that might arise. On top of all of that, we are refining our surge plan to make sure that we have the right resources available if we do indeed get a surge of patients. As a small facility, we have screened 10 patients so far for COVID-19 and all 10 have come back negative. 

Q: How are virtual tools being implemented? 

ET: We have a virtual health network set up for patients to access a primary care provider. We don't have the ability for our own providers at this time to treat their panel of patients virtually, but it's something we are looking into. 

Q: What are you doing to stop the spread of misinformation? 

ET: Through our daily communication that we started at the beginning of March 16 we are putting out a two-page document that lists statistics, including the number of people tested and how many are negative, the status of our PPE, volume information in high touchpoint areas and any bullet points on decisions being made. For example, when we made the decision to cancel or reschedule elective surgeries March 16, that information was in our daily sheet to caregivers. 

We have also counseled some staff on the use of social media and that we do need to funnel all of our communication through our public information officer. We have had a couple of social media posts that weren't necessarily authorized by our PIO. 

The other thing we did for our caregivers was to communicate employee assistance funds. We set up an emergency fund that will support those caregivers if they have childcare needs and financial hardships. We have also gone on record to pay full-time wages for anyone who is furloughed from employment or quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19. We are trying to get more community resources set up so if we get that surge, we will have the necessary support for caregivers. 

Kendra Gohl: One of the things that may have helped us in the beginning was we tried to ensure our managers were as ready with the details around COVID-19. We highly encouraged them to not just share that information with their staff, but to create an environment where the staff can ask any questions and feel comfortable sharing their personal concerns. I think that is a very important part of being able to stay calm in light of everything going on around them. 

More articles on leadership and management:
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