Chief Medical Officers Praise ‘Fearlessness,’ Preparation During Pandemic 

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Chief medical officers of large hospital systems in Portland, reflecting on the early, frenetic days of the virus, say the pandemic has changed their perspective.

They scoured for vendors of personal protective equipment, competing with the rest of the country and the world. They arranged conference calls with hundreds of medical workers to discuss how hospitals are responding to the pandemic. They started talking more with each other.These were some of the issues that came up Tuesday in a panel that included 

Five Portland-area chief medical officers of hospital systems at the annual meeting of the Portland Business Alliance. The experts  also highlighted the death of George Floyd and the current attention on racism and discrimination. 

Dr. Steve Freer, chief medical officer of Providence Health & Services, said the response to Floyd’s death has been “both inspiring and troubling.” He said the outpouring of support for marginalized communities is inspiring and the troubling aspect is “the response of high-level political leaders who have failed us for years.”

The virtual event drew more than 600 viewers. 

Dr. Renee Edwards, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Oregon Health &Science University, said her institution recognized the need for adequate protective equipment and explored new options on how to extend its life and reuse it.

“We started talking together about how each of us were managing PPE,” Edwards said.

As for the pandemic, Freer said, Oregon had some lead time to get prepared with the first patient being in Seattle. Daily conversations grew from just a handful of physicians in the system to phone calls with hundreds of medical professionals, he said.

He praised the “fearlessness” he observed when colleagues put on their protective equipment and went to work treating patients. 

“I do believe we’ll get through this,” he said.

A leader at Kaiser Permanente remembered a colleague telling her to get ready:  to get ready.

He told her “life as you know it is changing, and our health care system will change,” said Dr. Mary Giswold, associate medical director of the hospital and post-acute care at Northwest Permanente, part of Kaiser.

Dr. Sahana Misra, chief of staff at Portland VA Medical Center, said the community’s preparation was a team effort, including help from businesses and the efforts of people to socially distance.

Dr. Lewis Low, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Legacy Health, said the company opposes racism, adding that the events provide an opportunity to look inwardly and consider how to combat the problem.

Low said they quickly realized they had low personal protective equipment supplies beyond their routine day-to-day usage when the pandemic broke.
However, he also praised an employee who “was sort of a pack rat” who kept nearly outdated protective equipment in its warehouse. That stash wasn’t enough, but it helped right away, Low said. 

“I give credit to that pack rat,” Low said. 

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.