Behind the Pandemic Response – The Incident Command Center at Saint Joseph Hospital
As we welcome patients back to our care facilities and resume pre-COVID-19 activities, you may be interested to know that the Incident Command Center (ICC) at Saint Joseph Hospital is still active. Just a few months ago, this group of leaders and top minds from Saint Joseph Hospital and National Jewish Health as well as doctors from the Colorado Permanente Medical Group, met two or more times daily to assess COVID-19 protocols, treatments, CDC guidance, financial impacts, and constantly changing priorities.
“It was so intense. It took all of our time. You stop doing anything else and really focus on what’s happening in the Incident Command Center,” said Barb Jahn, chief operating officer of Saint Joseph Hospital. Jahn served as the Incident Commander for more than three months, overseeing every aspect of the COVID-19 response. There were 10 different groups within the ICC, each of which oversaw a different aspect of the response like safety; bed management; infection control; submitting, tracking and reporting test results; state health department liaisons; and the medical branch representing health care providers caring for COVID-19 patients.
“The interesting thing is, when you look at how the ICC was organized, it looks like it’s a design for mass casualty type triage and activation,” said Ken Lyn-Kew, MD, National Jewish Health critical care pulmonologist. Dr. Lyn-Kew was highly involved in the medical branch of the ICC and contributed to the medical guidance created for treating COVID-19 patients. “I don’t think people realize how much work was going on behind the scenes in the ICC,” he said.
The ICC team was extremely busy responding to the crisis in real time, but they also were looking ahead to what was next. “At one point in time we had very intentional conversations about returning to normal operations. How do we build up our non-COVID patient volume for service lines again? How do we let the community know it is safe to come to our facility for health care needs?” Jahn said.
Today, only a small component of the full ICC is continuing operations. “We were able to ramp down from 24/7 coverage in the ICC, to being able to not have everyone working on ICC needs 24/7,” Jahn said. She still meets with leaders from ICC groups that continue to operate, like the medical branch group, which meets independently once a week.
“We meet to discuss the latest in COVID-19 treatment and protocols, and we also talk about how to plan for a potential second wave of COVID,” Dr. Lyn-Kew explains.
In fact, the ICC is ready to reactivate at a moment’s notice. “We’ve talked about the potential for another surge and how we would pull the whole team back together,” Jahn said. “The question is, what is it going to look like with the flu, especially if it’s a bad flu season? What’s ominous about it is the unknown.”
Despite the unknown future of COVID-19, both Jahn and Dr. Lyn-Kew are extremely proud of how the ICC team has worked together so cohesively. “At a time where there were no answers and fear was so present, it was phenomenal to see people coming together that way,” Jahn said.
There are a few faculty members and associates permanently assigned to the ICC for the foreseeable future. And, while you might not know it, the ICC stands ready to guide the ongoing COVID-19 response.