How a Rural Hospital Treated a COVID-19 Patient 120 Miles Away
When Sutter Health’s Memorial Hospital Los Banos had a critically ill patient test positive for COVID-19, there wasn’t an ICU room for her. The small community hospital’s four ICU beds are located in the same large room separated by curtains, and this patient needed to be isolated.
A private room was made available, but there was a problem: It was not equipped with the Sutter eICU telehealth system that allows 24/7 critical-care physician coverage from a central hub 120 miles north in Sacramento. But, as part of its preparations for a COVID-19 patient surge, Sutter Health had just deployed a new system that allowed its eICUs to more than double its capabilities. The patient in Los Banos was the first to be cared for using the new system.
Sutter, a national pioneer in electronic ICU (eICU), has for years ensured critically ill patients in both large cities and small towns have 24/7 access to an expert team of doctors specially trained in their care. From central hubs in Sacramento and San Francisco, these doctors monitor patients in ICUs many miles away using live interactive video and remote diagnostic tools to instantly assess critical changes in a patient’s condition and provide expert critical-care physician support and supervision for the hospitalists, specialists and nurses who provide the hands-on care.
Sutter Health has more than 300 ICU patient rooms at 18 hospitals, each one outfitted with interactive video cameras, but in a matter of a month, Sutter designed and deployed specialized units that enable the eICU’s critical-care physicians to care for upward of 1,000 coronavirus patients without having to travel from hospital to hospital and using in-demand PPE. As part of its COVID-19 surge planning, each hospital set aside other patient rooms that don’t have the eICU video technology installed, and Sutter’s eICU team created and deployed 82 iPad stands across its network to bring these specialized critical care teams to those patients, too. Including the patient in Los Banos.
“The challenge was to come up with a plan for our eICU to provide care for a surge in patients across Northern California,” said Dr. Tom Shaughnessy, medical director of Sutter Health Bay Area eICU. “We are now able to meet the need of a patient surge by giving the same comprehensive, quality care whether a patient is in one of our ICU beds or a converted room.”
With the assistance of the eICU team through the mobile units, the patient in Los Banos recovered from the novel coronavirus. Now rural hospitals throughout the Sutter network are prepared for patients who need to be isolated and still have 24/7 critical-care physician coverage, and Sutter’s larger hospitals are prepared for a future patient surge of any type that requires all-hours critical-care coverage.
“We have nurses and physicians providing some of the best bedside care in the country, and the eICU allows us to come in and provide advanced specialized support as they care for patients,” said Dr. Vanessa Walker, medical director of the Sutter Health Valley Area eICU. “This is critical in the care for those suffering from compromised lung function due to a virus such as COVID-19. Now with these additional mobile units, we are well prepared to meet a surge of patients from this current crisis or any other that may come in the future.”