Madison, Wis. — As our community achieves some long-awaiting easing of pandemic-era public safety measures, UW Health is reflecting on the extensive steps our hospitals and clinics took to keep staff and patients safe from a new and deadly virus — and how those safety precautions will influence hospital safely in the future.
“Every decision we made was with staff and patient safety in mind,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at UW Health. “We went the extra mile early to make sure everyone was as safe as possible as we learned about the virus and how it spreads in real time.”
A lot of change came in March 2020. Non-essential surgeries and procedures were postponed. Staff that could work from home were instructed to work remotely. Visitors were limited. UW Health began daily communications to staff and to the public with the latest information on the spread of the virus, the protocols for infection prevention, available supplies and more.
In the first several months of COVID-19, PPE supplies were a concern for health systems nationwide and beyond. UW Health worked creatively and collaboratively to ensure staff had the PPE they needed to stay safe, including barrier masks, PAPRs, N-95s and face shields. UW Health monitored constantly changing supply and CDC guidance, adjusting protocols for sanitation and PPE reuse as knowledge of the virus increased.
UW Health started in-house COVID-19 testing in March 2020 and began testing patients prior to procedures and surgeries so providers and staff knew in advance if the patient had COVID-19 and could ensure they wore the appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment).
UW Health also worked diligently to trace all employee cases to prevent breakouts.
These efforts, and those listed above ultimately led to UW Health staff having lower rates of COVID-19 infection than those in the community or the state.
Early action, comprehensive safety protocols and the ongoing research and reaction to new information about the virus helped to keep our patients and staff safe during one of the most challenging situations most of us have ever faced. While some life will quickly return to normal, lessons learned on PPE, ventilation, supply and remote care or work will influence future safety measures for generations to come.
Experts at UW Health encourage everyone to get vaccinated if they have not already done so.