As we look back on 2020, it’s easy to focus on hardship and uncertainty. But I’d also like to remember 2020 as a year when our health system and our entire region united to face the challenges before us.
In 2019, Memorial Health System introduced a new organizational structure to enable us to work more effectively as a system and share our resources. In 2020, as we mobilized to fight COVID-19, the benefits of that new structure quickly became evident. We were able to respond to the pandemic as one system rather than a series of separate affiliates, providing our patients with the safest, highest-quality care. At the same time, we partnered with other healthcare organizations across our communities to coordinate our response and ensure the public had accurate, timely information.
Most of all, though, I’m proud of our colleagues, who persevered in our mission despite significant and unprecedented challenges. In the following pages, you’ll read about how colleagues from every part of our organization stepped up to respond to this once-in-a-generation healthcare crisis. Their tireless efforts to care for those affected by the virus and protect our region inspired me and countless others this year.
During 2020, many Americans came to realize what we at Memorial Health System have always known: healthcare professionals are truly heroes. Thank you to everyone who cared for our patients and supported our communities during the past year.
Prepared for a Safe Arrival
Tavia Hill, 26, had just been furloughed from her job as a dental hygienist in March when she learned that a co-worker had tested positive for COVID-19. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, that call would have been unsettling enough—but the fact that Tavia was also nine months pregnant with her first child added an extra layer of alarm. She called her doctor and was immediately tested for the virus. She wasn’t experiencing any symptoms other than shortness of breath, which she attributed to the late months of pregnancy.
On a Saturday, she learned she had tested positive. For 13 days she isolated at home before her contractions began, and then she headed to Decatur Memorial Hospital to deliver her baby. The team at DMH had updated their protocols in preparation for the arrival of COVID-19-positive mothers-to-be.
“I was super nervous because nobody could be there with me,” Tavia said. “But I received great care here. They didn’t make it a scary experience at all—although the nurses did look like astronauts!”
That astronaut look resulted from the N95 masks and powered air-purifying respirators the staff wore when interacting with Tavia. She delivered her baby in a negative-pressure room, meaning there was no air exchange that could risk contaminating other rooms. She was also assigned her own specific nurses for the day and night shifts. “My day nurse was awesome those first few days,” Tavia said. “She kept me smiling and was constantly calling in to check on me.”
Tavia labored all day Monday. Later that night, she was induced, and baby Reign arrived within half an hour. “The nurses were well-prepared, and we had dedicated staff to care for this patient,” said Sharon Norris, MSN, RN, CNML, affiliate vice president and chief nursing officer at DMH. “Because she was our first COVID-positive mother-to-be, there was a high level of anticipation about how it would go and what to expect.”
Reign met her mom for a few moments before being transferred to her own negative-pressurized room, which was set up as a nursery across the hall from Tavia. An iPad was made available so that Tavia could see her baby and talk with the nurse caring for Reign.
The two were reunited the next day as Tavia was released from isolation. The new mom was required to wear a mask and gown before holding the baby because Reign’s COVID-19 status was still undetermined. Both a 24-hour and 48-hour COVID-19 test for the baby came back negative. The two roomed together at DMH for four days before heading home. Tavia was grateful for her night nurse, who checked in on Reign while Tavia tried to sleep.
“The labor and delivery team and the neonatal team are used to being prepared for ever-changing situations,” said Carol Hendrian, RN, director of Women and Children’s Services at DMH. “Tavia handled her delivery with such courage and flexibility, and she was able to keep smiling through all of it.”
In the Command Center
On March 13, Memorial Health System mobilized its Hospital Incident Command System (HICS). Incident Command protocols are intended to provide short-term leadership during a crisis, such as a severe weather event or an accident that brings a rush of injured patients to the hospital. Usually, Incident Command teams are only mobilized for a few hours or days. But the team handling the COVID-19 response quickly became the longest-running Incident Command in Memorial history.
The first incident commander within that structure was senior vice president and chief medical officer Raj Govindaiah, MD, but when it became clear that his expertise was needed for medical issues, president and CEO Ed Curtis took the helm. This group continues to meet regularly to stay informed and address any issues that may arise. Each MHS affiliate also has its own Incident Command team that meets to discuss specific details of their pandemic response.
Memorial leaders continue to collaborate with other local healthcare and public health organizations to present a united front in the battle against the virus.
At first, these partnerships were focused on ensuring the public received accurate, up-to-date information about COVID-19. But quickly the collaboration expanded, enabling the organizations to set unified guidelines for visitor restrictions, testing and other important issues. MHS worked closely with SIU Medicine, Springfield Clinic, HSHS Illinois and county health departments.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened our existing partnerships and even helped us form new ones,” MHS president and CEO Ed Curtis said. “We are truly all in this together, and the ability to collaborate with our colleagues at other organizations has been a blessing.”
“All of us at HSHS Illinois have been so grateful for the collaboration within the central Illinois medical community during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said E.J. Kuiper, MHA, DPT, FACHE, HSHS Illinois president and CEO.
“It has been a huge benefit to the communities we serve to have our team working alongside Memorial Health System and other healthcare partners to provide consistent care in the safest way possible to our patients with and without COVID-19.”
Reimagining Respiratory Care
In the early days of the pandemic, healthcare organizations nationwide struggled with the question of how to test and treat patients with COVID-19 safely within their facilities.
That dilemma quickly became apparent for staff at Memorial ExpressCare. On Thursday, March 12, ExpressCare director Robin Murphy performed the first positive COVID-19 test at an ExpressCare clinic with Kimberly Paskiewicz, administrator of specialty services, standing by as safety officer. That drive-up test took place behind the South Sixth Street clinic in Springfield because there were not yet protocols in place for testing patients under investigation for COVID-19 at ExpressCare locations.
During the weekend following that first positive test, Murphy, Paskiewicz and Memorial Physician Services leaders discussed how to convert the South Sixth clinic into a Respiratory Clinic dedicated to the testing and treatment of patients with respiratory symptoms. Their plans became a reality in only a few days—on Monday, March 16, the Respiratory Clinic opened its doors for the first time.
“It was incredible to see how fast things began coming together over that weekend,” Paskiewicz said. “Our ExpressCare team just stepped up and did it, even at a time when people were really scared and there were a lot of unknowns.”
Each patient encounter at the clinic started with a phone consultation and screening. Patients with suspected COVID-19 symptoms or who had an upcoming surgical procedure at a Memorial Health System hospital could receive a curbside swab test. But the Respiratory Clinic was more than just a swabbing station—patients could also receive chest X-rays, EKGs and other, more extensive tests and treatment. Staff also followed up regularly for patients who tested positive for COVID-19, ensuring they received appropriate at-home care and tracking any worrisome symptoms.
Shortly after the South Sixth Respiratory Clinic opened, Decatur Medical Group opened a clinic at DMH ExpressCare East using the same model to serve Macon County residents. During a COVID-19 outbreak at a large employer in Cass County, the ExpressCare team also set up a temporary Respiratory Clinic in Beardstown. At the same time, Memorial Physician Services created some high-tech ways to reach patients, including a chat bot dubbed “AnneSarah” who could answer questions about COVID-19 symptoms and screening.
During the first six months of the clinic’s operation, staff logged more than 47,000 patient encounters, including more than 20,000 COVID-19 tests. “There have been days that have been really, really crazy and stressful, but I think we’ve weathered that really well,” Murphy said, noting how staff have remained optimistic and upbeat even when standing outside in full PPE to perform curbside testing in freezing cold or searing heat. “We asked people to adapt to a lot of changes in a short period of time, and they pitched right in.”
The Respiratory Clinic model utilizes many ways for patients to access care: by telephone, from their cars or in person. Paskiewicz credits ExpressCare colleagues with helping refine that model with innovative, out-of-the-box thinking. “This has helped us reimagine how care is delivered,” she said.
New Roles for a New Normal
When Memorial Health System suspended elective procedures and many other normal operations in March, colleagues in areas experiencing low volumes of work were redeployed to new roles responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 661 colleagues redeployed
- 19 new roles
- 50 locations
- Serving 66,905 hours
New roles included:
- Entrance screeners
- Safety monitors
- PPE conservation
Ready, Safe, Go
As elective procedures resumed in May, Memorial launched the “Ready, Safe, Go” campaign to reassure the public it is safe to seek healthcare. Prompted by concerns that delaying necessary care could have dangerous consequences for patients, the campaign highlighted the many safety efforts underway at MHS hospitals and clinics.
Those efforts brought the work of the health system’s Environmental Services teams into the spotlight, showcasing how they keep facilities clean and sanitized with a combination of high-tech methods and old-fashioned elbow grease.
“Some people might think of Environmental Services as janitors,” said Gabe Ceperich, director, MMC Environmental Services.
“But we’re so much more than that. We’re on the front lines of protecting our patients, our colleagues and our community from illnesses like COVID-19 here in the healthcare setting.”
Support from the Community
As the pandemic response got underway, MHS hospitals received a massive outpouring of donations from the community in the form of meals, hot coffee and hundreds of homemade masks. The masks were laundered and distributed to colleagues across the organization. These generous expressions of gratitude helped lift spirits during a stressful time.
Screening for Safety
In March and April, Emergency Department bays at MHS hospitals were transformed into triage centers where individuals with respiratory symptoms could be screened and receive treatment in negative-airflow spaces. Colleagues across the system worked to establish these triage areas quickly, and they helped ensure the safety of patients and colleagues alike.
Taylorville Memorial Hospital Opens Doors of New Facility
On the morning of March 11, seventeen patients took part in a milestone event for Taylorville Memorial Hospital as staff transported them from the old facility to an acute-care unit on the second floor of the new hospital.
“In less than one hour, we safely transported every inpatient to the new facility. On average, one patient was moved every three to four minutes,” TMH chief nursing officer Eli Heicher said. “This was an incredible logistical feat that required months of planning and marks a major milestone in our history.”
The move marked the completion of the first phase of the two-phase construction project to replace the original 1954 hospital. Before the building opened to patients, TMH hosted several community events to showcase the new facility, which features 25 private rooms and provides more convenient access to an array of outpatient services.
“We put so much thought and intention into the design to make it more convenient and provide easier access to services for patients and their families,” said TMH president and CEO Kim Bourne.
“Opening the doors of this new facility for the first time was an exciting moment for all of us.”
The second phase of the project is expected to be complete by summer 2021. It includes a new hospital kitchen, cafeteria, administrative offices and conference rooms. Springfield-based O’Shea Builders is the general contractor and the architect is BSA Life Structures of St. Louis.
PAH Named Baby-Friendly Hospital
In January 2020, Passavant Area Hospital earned designation as a Baby-Friendly Hospital, recognizing optimal care for mothers who want to breastfeed their newborns. To earn this honor, Family Maternity Suites nurses implemented policies that encourage breastfeeding and provide support and education for nursing mothers.
These policies are based on a set of evidence-based practices recommended by the World Health Organization and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund for optimal infant feeding support in the first days of a newborn’s life.
“We provide education to our new mothers to help them make informed decisions about breastfeeding,” PAH Family Maternity Suites nurse manager Simone Parlier said. “We also offer comprehensive lactation education support both during the hospital stay and when the new mothers return home. Plus, mothers are encouraged to hold their babies skin to skin immediately following birth.”
Lincoln Land, MHS Partner to Address Nursing Shortage
In February, officials from Lincoln Land Community College and Memorial Health System announced the expansion of their long-standing partnership to help address the regional nursing shortage. With support from MHS, LLCC will admit 90 additional students per year to the college’s associate degree nursing program, for a total of 215 new nursing students annually. MHS will provide approximately $6.1 million to renovate the west wing of Montgomery Hall on the LLCC campus that will house expanded nursing classrooms and learning labs, purchase state-of-the-art equipment and hire additional nursing faculty and staff.
“LLCC has been supplying quality nurses to Memorial Health System since the early 1970s,” said Ed Curtis, MHS president and CEO.
“We are excited to now expand our partnership with LLCC to address the regional nursing shortage and meet the needs of the patients and communities we serve.”
Connections for Healing
The Access to Health Collaborative, a partnership between SIU Medicine, Memorial Medical Center and HSHS St. John’s Hospital, began in 2015 as a way to increase access to healthcare in the Enos Park neighborhood of Springfield. The success of that effort led the program to expand to address the needs of other marginalized populations—including, most recently, local immigrant communities.
“This effort got underway before the pandemic struck,” said Becky Gabany, system director of Community Engagement at Memorial Health System. “When COVID-19 hit, we were better prepared to help a population that has been disproportionately affected across the country.”
Those efforts are led by SIU Medicine community health worker Julio Barrenzuela. A native of Springfield, Barrenzuela has deep ties within the local Latino community. In his role with the Access to Health Collaborative, he works closely with three organizations that serve that community: Culturally Integrated Education for Latinos Organization (CIELO), which provides scholarships and other educational support for Latino/Hispanic students; Springfield Immigrant Advocacy Network (SIAN), which supports and advocates for immigrants in the area; and Hispanic Women of Springfield, which works to bring awareness of the culture and heritage of Central and South America to the Springfield community.
The Latino community in Springfield includes families like Barrenzuela’s, who have called central Illinois home for many years, as well as more recent arrivals from Puerto Rico, Mexico and several Central American countries. The community includes individuals with many different immigration statuses, ranging from naturalized citizens to individuals who may be in the process of completing their immigration paperwork or those who are undocumented. This latter group often goes without healthcare because of concerns about jeopardizing their immigration status and/or their future prospects of petitioning for residency or citizenship. If immigrants use healthcare services funded by federal or state aid, they may risk being denied the opportunity to become legal residents.
As a result, many conditions go untreated, Barrenzuela said. “When I first start talking to them, they say, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine,’” he said, noting that Latino immigrants are often hesitant to share their health concerns with others. This aspect of their culture can mask more serious health issues. The most pressing needs he sees are dental care, diabetes care, mental healthcare and vision care.
Barrenzuela works with SIAN to connect his clients with healthcare resources that will not affect their immigration status. In some cases, payment is also an issue; among immigrants employed in low-wage jobs, being uninsured or under-insured is common. With these factors in mind, he helps clients consider their options for care and choose the right approach.
During the pandemic, Barrenzuela has worked with local organizations on food distribution to food-insecure families while helping coordinate testing and translation services. Sometimes, he said, progress can seem slow. But every step counts. “I want my Latino community to be better off—better than we were yesterday—whatever that looks like,” he said.
Resources for Safe Gatherings
In April and May, as COVID-19 restrictions began to lift statewide, many restaurants, businesses and churches reopened for the first time since the pandemic began. Community benefit colleagues from Memorial Health System distributed signs and educational materials these organizations could use to encourage mask-wearing, handwashing, social distancing and other infection prevention practices.
In partnership with the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at SIU Medicine, MHS also distributed more than 2,500 signs to organizations that primarily serve people of color.
“When our local businesses and houses of worship began to reopen, it was important that they could do so safely,” said Becky Gabany, MHS system director of Community Engagement. “Providing the resources to help them with that felt like a natural extension of our mission.”
One of the churches using these materials is Jasper Street Church of Christ in Decatur, which reopened its doors for in-person services on July 19. Deacon Ervin Smith said that some members of the congregation were nervous about returning. But the precautions they instituted—including offering multiple services to allow for more social distancing—have helped provide reassurance, he said.
“I think it helped to ease their minds once they came and saw we have preventive measures in place,” he said.
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital
ALMH is a critical access hospital in Lincoln serving the people and communities of Logan and eastern Mason counties. ALMH also offers a spectrum of outpatient rehabilitation, therapy and diagnostic testing.
Decatur Memorial Hospital
DMH provides inpatient and outpatient care to residents of Macon County and the neighboring counties, offering a wide range of general and specialized diagnostic, surgical and treatment services.
Memorial Behavioral Health
Memorial Behavioral Health offers a continuum of behavioral healthcare and rehabilitation services for children and adults in Sangamon, Menard, Logan, Mason, Scott, Christian and Morgan counties.
Memorial Home Services
Memorial Home Services provides home health, hospice and medical equipment services across an 18-county region in central Illinois.
Memorial Medical Center
MMC is an acute care Magnet® hospital (for nursing excellence) in Springfield that offers comprehensive inpatient and outpatient services to residents of 40 central and southern Illinois counties. Since 1970, MMC has been a teaching hospital affiliated with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine for the purpose of providing clinical training for residents.
Memorial Physician Services
Memorial Physician Services is a primary care network that serves patients in nearly 400,000 visits each year in central Illinois locations in Chatham, Jacksonville, Lincoln, Petersburg and Springfield.
Passavant Area Hospital
PAH is a Magnet® hospital (for nursing excellence) in Jacksonville serving the residents of Morgan, Cass, Greene, Scott, Macoupin and portions of Brown and northern Pike counties since 1875. PAH provides inpatient and outpatient services.
Taylorville Memorial Hospital
TMH is a critical access hospital in Taylorville offering a full range of inpatient and outpatient services to residents of Christian County.