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COVID-19 One Year

Senior leaders gathered for an early COVID-19 town hall. Consistent with then-current CDC guidelines, no masks were worn.

Trial and triumph: Yale New Haven Health marks the first year of COVID-19

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These past 12 months have tested our resilience at Yale New Haven Health, yet proved our resolve. 

In winter 2020, what started as news of a mysterious virus in Wuhan, China quickly emerged as a highly contagious, novel coronavirus. On March 9, Bridgeport Hospital confirmed its first COVID-19 case, followed by Greenwich Hospital March 11 and Yale New Haven Hospital March 14. 

Early in the pandemic, CEO Marna Borgstrom remarked that in her 41 years in health care, she had been involved in a number of challenging issues. “There’s no better group of people that I would want in a lifeboat with me than the people who work in this Health System,” she said.

She was right.

Most YNHHS employees and physicians had never dealt with a pandemic, but their experience with past disasters and flexibility in assuming different roles helped YNHHS prepare for and respond to COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, employees in clinical and non-clinical departments have jumped into action and accomplished the remarkable. Their many achievements include:

  • Incident command structures at the Health System and delivery network levels to coordinate the COVID response
  • Frequent internal and external communications, including employee town halls, incident command briefings, press conferences and a COVID-19 Call Center (see related story)
  • Drive-through specimen collection sites and mobile testing units throughout Connecticut and in Rhode Island, and onsite specimen testing developed by Yale New Haven’s Virology Laboratory
  • Transformation of patient care, including reconfiguring inpatient units to care for COVID patients and expanding telehealth capabilities, allowing for 640,089 patient-provider video visits since March 9, 2020
  • A YNHHS Labor Pool that deployed clinical staff to where they were most needed
  • Procurement of nearly impossible-to-find resources, from PPE to ventilators to medications 
  • New COVID-19 treatments, such as proning and medication therapies
  • Numerous YNHHS employee support and well-being initiatives 
  • System-wide safety measures, such as patient screening, visitor restrictions, enhanced cleaning and telecommuting for many employees 

“We’ve seen employees work extra shifts, cover shifts at other hospitals, and take on new duties,” Borgstrom said. “We’ve seen and heard stories of courage and compassion. We want everyone to know how appreciative we are of the remarkable job they’ve done under extreme circumstances. From Greenwich to Westerly, no one does it better.”

On April 21, 2020, YNHHS’ inpatient COVID admissions peaked at 790, but that same day, the health system discharged its 1,000th COVID patient. YNHHS COVID-19 cases declined over last summer, but everyone knew the pandemic wasn’t over.

YNHHS COVID-positive cases began climbing again last fall, taking a toll on already mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted staff. Still, they persevered, and December brought some hope. The FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, and on Dec. 15, five YNHH employees and medical staff members received their first of two doses. This launched a successful campaign to administer the vaccine to all YNHHS employees and medical staff members who wanted it. 

In January 2021, the state sought healthcare organizations’ help in vaccinating the public. YNHHS employees rallied again – this time organizing and implementing 14 vaccination clinics throughout Connecticut. From December 2020 through early this month, YNHHS administered nearly 135,000 doses of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The YNHHS employees and physicians who volunteered to staff community vaccination clinics heard stories of hope and relief from people optimistic about the pandemic’s end and grateful for the healthcare professionals who provided exemplary care and compassion against all odds.

Within a year after COVID-19 first appeared at YNHHS, the health system had administered 196,095 COVID-19 tests and discharged 9,629 COVID-19 patients. 

“At this one-year mark, it is astounding to see all that you have accomplished,” Borgstrom said. “The pandemic is not over, but we do see light at the end of the tunnel. I am proud of the extraordinary work all of you have done. You should be proud, too.”