Often overlooked in the rush to treat COVID-19 are the tireless efforts of healthcare workers whose job is to identify the coronavirus and prevent it from spreading: the testing and prevention teams at Methodist Health System.
When the pandemic struck and many turned to medical staff for support, our teams at Methodist Health System stepped up and answered the call. The specialists who comprise our pathology and labs department and infection prevention staff worked proactively to boost testing and prevention, as well as expand our knowledge of the COVID-19 virus.
Pathology and Labs
The first job when a COVID-19 diagnosis is confirmed falls to pathologists and other laboratory staff, who each day test hundreds of specimens around the clock.
“We’ve had so many people step up, work extra, all weekend long, checking for test results,” John Strathearn, administrative director of laboratory services at Methodist Dallas Medical Center. “They’re always there.”
In labs across Methodist Health System, highly trained professionals have shifted into overdrive since the pandemic struck locally. And thanks to their foresight, Methodist was ahead of the curve in terms of testing, says A. Joe Saad, MD, chairman of pathology for Methodist Health System.
“When COVID-19 started to hit in Dallas, the only labs able to test were the Dallas County Health Department and our lab,” Dr. Saad says. Being a step ahead of the competition when the stakes are so high is how Methodist puts its patients first.
Karen Roush, MD, vice-chair of pathology for Methodist Health System
Weeks before it became a global pandemic, Karen Roush, MD, vice-chair of pathology for Methodist Health System, shared her worries about COVID-19 with her boss. “This is going to be a disaster,” Dr. Saad recalled her saying. “If we’re not ready, we’re going to regret it.” Thanks to her foresight, Methodist was the first health system locally to obtain the tests needed to identify the virus. That became especially important in early March when the first case of community-spread COVID-19 was treated at Methodist.
Tina McNabb, administrative director of laboratory services at Methodist Charlton Medical Center
Tina McNabb, administrative director of laboratory services at Methodist Charlton Medical Center, and her team run an average of 100 tests a day for COVID-19 patients, in addition to thousands of other tests, delivering results in record time. Her department is the only one within the Methodist Health System equipped to test for the novel coronavirus, cutting the wait time from days at outside labs to four hours or less from hers. Without her team, doctors would not have the proper guidance to determine treatment plans, and nurses would not know which safety precautions are necessary.
Staying a step ahead of the virus is where infection prevention and control (IP) comes in, devising strategies to ensure the safety of patients and healthcare workers alike. This multidisciplinary team, whose backgrounds include nursing, public health, and lab sciences, seeks out patterns of infection within the hospital and the larger community and determines how best to stop the virus from spreading. Among its most important roles is education, from training clinical staff on the proper way to put on and take off a respirator to stamping out misinformation and adapting to best practices that change by the day.
Marie Wilson, MSN, RN, CIC, manager of infection prevention and control at Methodist Dallas Medical Center
“Every day there’s new or conflicting guidance from public health agencies and professional organizations that we must reconcile,” says Marie Wilson, MSN, RN, CIC, manager of infection prevention and control at Methodist Dallas. “It causes frustration and doubt in a process already heavily burdened with uncertainty.”
It’s a testament to the IP team’s success that it can cut through the doubt to deliver a simple and reassuring message time and again. “It is possible to slow and prevent transmission of this infection,” Marie says. “We are learning significant amounts every day.”
A nurse by training, Marie is a fierce advocate of our nursing units, giving a voice to the staff most closely serving the patient and empowering nurses to decide what works best in reducing infections and the spread of the new coronavirus. With Wes Dunham, director of emergency management, she spearheaded the Methodist task force that has been instrumental to protecting the community and our patients, physicians, and staff.
Katherine Hartdegen, BSN, BS, RN, CPN, manager of Infection Prevention and Control at Methodist Richardson Medical Center
After 15 years as a pediatric and NICU nurse, Katherine Hartdegen, BSN, BS, RN, CPN, manager of Infection Prevention and Control at Methodist Richardson Medical Center jumped at the chance to head up the department at Richardson, five months before the biggest global pandemic in a generation. She hasn’t missed a beat, coordinating the hospital’s infectious disease protocols and the ever-evolving use of personal protective equipment.
Cheryl Wherry (right), BSN, RN, CIC, LSSYB, infection prevention manager with Shantala Samart, MD, infectious disease specialist
Infection Prevention Manager Cheryl Wherry, BSN, RN, CIC, LSSYB, has the back of Shantala Samart, MD, infectious disease specialist — and vice versa — when it comes to protecting each other and Methodist Mansfield patients from the coronavirus.
As manager of infection prevention and control at Methodist Charlton Medical Center, Senait Woldai, MPH, CIC, LSSGB, and her contributions are hard to overstate: She fields staff’s questions 24/7, updates administrators on new data and guidelines, and helps contact-trace employees for possible viral exposures.
She also helped to create algorithms that are used for interpreting COVID-19 test results, guiding treatments, and deciding which precautions are necessary based on testing and symptoms. The success of these initiatives is a testament to her expertise and resolve.