Facing depleting resources and a looming surge in COVID-19 patients, UW Medicine is receiving much needed help from the community.
Seattle-area private philanthropy including the Ballmer Group and The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation along with more than 2800 individuals have given the medical system a fresh injection of funding to expand its COVID-19 response.
For instance, with additional funding, increased testing is being made available to those experiencing homelessness, an important priority to the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. But more is needed. To save lives in the weeks ahead, the UW Medicine says it needs $50 million for its Emergency Response Fund to support crucial testing, research, protection and capacity.
We spoke to UW Medicine’s CEO Paul Ramsey about what’s happening at the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, what else is needed in the fight and what’s giving him hope in the midst of the outbreak.
What is the biggest barrier facing UW Medicine in dealing with this crisis? How do you think that barrier can be conquered?
One of the biggest challenges we face is the scale of this crisis. Our nation’s healthcare system and the global supply chains have never faced a strain of this magnitude. The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers, or ventilators for very sick patients, are examples of this.
Fortunately, our state’s early actions on social distancing bought us time to adjust our operations, redeploy our staff and modify our hospital spaces in anticipation of the coming surge of COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization. The community has also been extremely generous in donating PPE for our frontline teams.
Reducing community spread of the virus is critical to overcoming this challenge. We can do that through social distancing and by increasing the scale and speed of COVID-19 testing. The faster we can identify and isolate individuals who are infected and those they may have come in contact with, the faster we can end this. Truly, the only way we can conquer this is by all working together — not just our healthcare workers, but the entire community.
UW Medicine's CEO Paul Ramsey
What are you most proud of when sharing with others how your doctors, nurses and support staff are responding to the crisis?
I’m most proud of how much our staff care about our patients. They want our patients to be comfortable, to get healthy again, to go home to their families.
They come to work each day, despite their own fears and hardships, and they give 110% to help our patients get better. I hear stories every day that are remarkable — from medical school students volunteering to deliver medications to the elderly, to nurses worried about how to help a dying patient say goodbye to a loved one, to administrators answering emails until the early morning hours. They do this work because they care about the people in our community.
We know that our neighbors experiencing homelessness are some of the most at risk during this time. How will this fund support those without a safe place to “shelter in place?”
We are especially concerned about the people in our community who are homeless. Many have underlying health conditions and other stressors that make them vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from this virus. Many also spend the night in shelters or other communal areas, such as encampments, where social distancing is difficult.
The consequences could be very serious if the homeless community is hit hard by COVID-19 — not only for those who become sick, but also for the larger community and our health system.
Harborview Medical Center is leading many efforts to provide testing and care for people experiencing homelessness during this crisis. Together with King County, we are converting Harborview Hall into a 45-bed quarantine site where patients without homes can receive supportive care and shelter. We are also conducting testing at several locations targeting unsheltered and other underserved populations. This grant will help us expand these efforts and the reach of our testing, which is still our first line of defense.
Why are new and expanded testing sites so important to slow the spread of COVID-19?
There are two reasons that expanded testing is so critical.
First, the faster we can identify and quarantine those with COVID-19 and anyone they may have been in contact with, the faster we can end this pandemic. Increasing both the number of tests we can perform and the turnaround time on those tests is essential to reducing community spread of the virus.
Second, testing data is the basis of every critical decision being made right now, from policy decisions like stay-at-home orders to hospital surge planning. We need the most accurate information possible to get these decisions right. If we don’t have fast, broad-based testing, we are flying blind.
How have you seen the community support UW medical staff?
In addition to the nearly $20 million in private donations to our Emergency Response Fund, we have seen an outpouring of community support in the form of in-kind donations of PPE, food, coffee and words of encouragement.
We’ve received hundreds of thousands of masks, gowns, goggles and face shields, and thousands of messages of support for our healthcare workers. All of us at UW Medicine, and especially our frontline teams, are deeply moved by this extraordinary show of support and unity.
What gives you hope that we can prevail against an outbreak like COVID-19?
What gives me hope is the community support and cooperation I’ve witnessed since this crisis began.
From individuals to government officials to corporations and philanthropic organizations, everyone is working together and pooling resources to protect the health of people in our state.
We are also extremely fortunate to live in an area with a strong healthcare industry and world-renowned medical research and public health entities. I believe that this expertise, combined with continued strong collaboration from the public and across sectors, will help us keep as many people as possible safe and healthy.
What’s the most important thing everyone can do right now to help you and UW’s doctors, nurses and staff battle COVID-19?
Stay home and wash your hands. And, if you can, consider supporting our efforts. You can make cash or in-kind donations or leave a message of support for our frontline healthcare workers at www.AccelerateMed.org/heroes.