Adapting to change: A day in the life at McLaren Central Michigan during COVID-19

The morning of March 15, McLaren Central Michigan’s leadership team came together for what would end up being the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Staff members across McLaren Central Michigan have worked long, hard hours together to stay on top of the COVID-19 pandemic.Over the course of just two days, the hospital had to ensure the facility was able to comply with all mandates from the Governor’s executive order and create the secure working infrastructure for the safety of staff, patients and the community.

Hospital administration as well as physician leaders, department managers and infection control staff spent two straight days adopting new policies and protocols surrounding hospital operations. By the following week, new entrances to the hospital were established along with testing protocols, new visitor guidelines and personal protection equipment (PPE) protocols sere put in place.

With new information surfacing about the virus, policies and protocols changed daily and, in some cases, multiple times a day, in order to keep up with the most up to date information.

In the months that have followed, the leadership team and staff have worked closely together to incorporate the safety measures required to keep everyone safe.

For Dr. Daniel Wilkerson, the Medical Director for the Emergency Room at McLaren Central Michigan, the process was a challenge of quickly adjusting to changing requirements.

Dr. Daniel Wilkerson, Medical Director for the Emergency Room at McLaren Central Michigan“We had to quickly adapt the process flow through the emergency department and in preparation for taking on COVID-19 positive patients, we converted an area of the emergency department we normally use as an overflow space to be able to safely separate patients,” says Dr. Wilkerson. “Several new walls were added to be able to convert the space into a negative pressure area, which works to continuously remove air from a room, circulating it out of the building. Negative pressure rooms work to minimize aerosolized droplets in cases like COVID-19, which offers a bit more protection against airborne transmission of the disease.”

For Linda Cornell, an infection control specialist with McLaren Central Michigan, it was assessing all the risk factors that contribute to infectious processes and transmission.

“For my role, I have to keep my finger on the pulse of what's going on in not only in the community, but across the state, the nation and the world,” says Cornell, a lifelong Mt. Pleasant resident and a 25-year employee of McLaren. “So, in that aspect, my work on COVID-19 began long before it was officially here in our community. We started preparing for this when we saw what was happening in China. We began modeling back in January what it would look like when we had a patient present with the disease at our hospital.”

Administration at McLaren Central Michigan delivers coffee around the hospital.
Beyond that, McLaren Central Michigan worked very closely with the local health department in the contact tracing process and with resources at the state level for what was happening and how that would impact Isabella County and surrounding communities.

Linda Cornell, an infection control specialist with McLaren Central Michigan“We were in constant contact with the Health Department on patient status and next steps,” says Cornell. “That helped manage the spread locally here as well.”

Such detail required the efficiency of a well-oiled machine, and one with many moving parts.

“Infection prevention takes everyone,” says Cornell. “People think washing hands and wearing masks are just basic things, but they are paramount to getting this under control.”

“From an internal protocol standpoint, one thing we did really well here at McLaren Central Michigan was coordinate daily communications from management, administration and different teams about the most recent updates,” says Cornell. “It was challenging, sometimes by the time we had distributed information to employees, it had already changed again that day. We had plans for every possible scenario, and it was really impressive work with every single department to get up to speed and combat this. It is like a chain, and we had every department as a link in that chain – from the ER to housekeeping – doing the work required to keep everyone safe.”

The hospital also separated patients in high-risk categories, housing and treating them in a different part of the hospital. Processes and procedures evolved over time, such as those patients who were getting swabbed for testing.

Now that things have stabilized, those protocols have continued, and resources like the negative pressure room are still available for future use.

“We really saw an outpouring of support from the community throughout all of this,” says Dr. Wilkerson.“Despite infection numbers beginning to stabilize, processes and protocols continue to be in place and the hospital is prepared in the event we experience a second wave,” says Dr. Wilkerson.

Dr. Wilkerson reinforced it is long and hard work for staff, and at times can be stressful. Community support is one of the things that helped keep everyone’s spirits high.

“We really saw an outpouring of support from the community throughout all of this,” says Dr. Wilkerson. “There was constantly food being sent to different departments out of the blue, all from different people within the community and restaurants who reached out and wanted to make sure the staff was fed and had what they needed.”

PPE supplies were donated as well. One local owner of a painting company dropped off an entire truck load of face masks, face shields and full-body coverage suits for the facility to use and Morbark donated several face shields.

Pamela Myler, a long-time hospital board member for McLaren Central Michigan, believes the hospital staff did an outstanding job leading our community through the pandemic.

“The team at McLaren Central Michigan are to be commended for their efforts during this unprecedented time. Their communication to the board of directors and community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be strong and our community is lucky to have such an expert healthcare presence leading the way,” says Myler.