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Inside a Children’s Hospital: Three Lessons from the ‘Tripledemic’

Kari Jones, MD
Pediatric Hospitalist
Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital

The Fall 2022 ‘tripledemic’ was like a sports fan wave in a stadium. It looks small in scope from across the field, but it is consuming by the time it reaches your section.

That’s what our hospital experienced when COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) converged in Spokane. Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital was at the epicenter of the response in Eastern Washington and North Idaho because we are the region’s only children’s hospital.

While we were prepared for the surge in many ways, we faced immense challenges tied to capacity, supplies, and staffing. CDC data suggests the ‘tripledemic’ has peaked, which is why I’m reflecting on three lessons learned from this experience.

Every person’s role matters. Responding to this surge required a network of caregivers and physicians. Like pieces of a puzzle, each person’s role was an important part of the bigger picture. For example, environmental services (EVS) caregivers worked tirelessly to clean and sanitize rooms, turning them over quickly so we could keep up with the high demand for care. Our nursing teams provided around-the-clock care for suffering children. Many had their own kids sick at home and continued to serve our community, offering compassionate, expert care to those in need.

Communication is a cornerstone. Effective communication has a profound impact on every aspect of our work.  During the surge, we regularly consulted with outlying providers holding a sick child in the emergency department. We assessed beds and staffing every day, collaborating across departments. We spent extra time with worried patient families to explain what was happening with their child. Hospital leaders met each morning to talk through critical needs, supply inventory, expected problems, and solutions. Each conversation played a powerful role in our response.

We are stronger together: Relationships within our own organization and across the health care field are critical. We faced unique challenges during this surge that we wouldn’t have been able to solve without help from others. When we ran out of cribs for our sick babies, Shriner’s Hospital in Spokane answered our call for help. Many specialty groups within Providence offered to round, write orders, and more, even while their own clinic schedules were full. Clinicians in rural areas who couldn’t transfer patients to us because we didn’t have room did their best work, even when it stretched their skills.

It is amazing what we can accomplish when we come together with a shared vision for good. I hope these lessons can prepare us for the future, whether we’re in the next wave or cautiously watching it from a distance.