One Year Later: Beaumont Health leads the way out of the pandemic through science, compassion and resiliency

First it was extreme fatigue and low-grade fever. Then, the shakes.

In early April 2020, Heather-Elizabeth Brown, 36, of Southfield, tried to convince herself that her escalating COVID-19 symptoms would go away.

By the time she was admitted to Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, thousands of nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, environmental staff and other frontline workers across the eight-hospital system were engaged in the battle of a lifetime.

Their mission: to protect and save the lives of 1,318 COVID-19 patients, a figure that climbed to that once unimaginable peak in less than four weeks. To date, Beaumont has cared for more COVID-19 patients than any other health system in Michigan.

Two days later, the previously healthy Brown was hooked up to a ventilator — and faced an epic battle still being waged.

“I was born at Beaumont, Royal Oak, and it makes sense that the amazing health care team there would be the ones responsible for saving my life 35 years later,” Brown said.

Looking back and moving forward

As Beaumont Health marks the first anniversary of the global coronavirus pandemic with the first reported case in Michigan on March 10, it’s an opportunity to honor those we’ve lost, celebrate survivors and recognize the determination and bravery of our health care heroes.

“2020 is a year we will never forget. The pandemic redefined so many things,” John Fox, Beaumont Health president and CEO, said. “It was a year that tested our mettle and forced us to rapidly rethink the way we solve problems and manage a crisis. We had to think on our feet, sometimes taking action within days or even hours, educating our staff on scientific innovations, policy and major next steps. Then, we had to move swiftly with precision and confidence. To say I am proud of the way our entire Beaumont team has responded to these Herculean challenges is an understatement. There are no words to express my gratitude and pride in all we have accomplished this year.”

Beaumont Health Chief Operating Officer Carolyn Wilson said the team’s commitment to patient care proved to be the uniting force.

“What stands out in my mind is how, with little preparation or precedence, and in the face of mounting uncertainty, our team rallied to support one another, find new and creative ways to communicate and decisively address one new challenge after another,” Wilson said. “The bonds forged during these months will last a lifetime. All of these efforts were driven by a shared passion to deliver the best possible care for patients and families.”

From launching a Coronavirus hotline, March 13, to providing community education and comfort, to taking steps to stop the spread by implementing visitor restrictions and addressing health concerns through curbside screening, March 15, Beaumont Health led the way from the very beginning.

“Our hotline quickly became a much-needed lifeline to the community,” Susan Grant, chief nursing officer for Beaumont Health said. “Our team tirelessly fielded thousands of calls from residents. I am proud of how quickly we pulled it together and how much education and compassion we were able to share.”

On March 15, Beaumont announced that most elective surgeries would be canceled to help limit the spread of the virus. On March 17, Beaumont started processing a limited number of COVID-19 tests on-site, providing health care teams results in hours instead of days.

“Typically, implementing an on-site test would take months,” said Dr. Barbara Ducatman, then chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and promoted to chief medical officer for Beaumont, Royal Oak later that month. “Our lab staff worked around the clock and as a result, we were able to put it together in days, speeding care and opening access to greater numbers of patients.”

Unprecedented hurdles and glowing milestones throughout the pandemic:

• March 18, 2020 – Beaumont Health announces its first COVID-19 death, the first COVID-19 death in Michigan. He was a man in his 50s with pre-existing conditions.
• March 27, 2020 – Beaumont announces it has joined forces with Henry Ford, Ascension Michigan, Detroit Medical Center/Wayne State University, to form a medical research study group and bring large-scale COVID-19 drug trials to Southeast Michigan in an effort to save lives.
• March 31, 2020 – Beaumont asks the community to recognize and honor all heath care heroes by stepping outside their door to shine a flashlight toward their nearest hospital and swap out a porch light with a blue light bulb to honor health care heroes and first responders as part of “Home Beams for Health Care Teams” program.
• April 5, 2020 – To address the supply shortage, Beaumont bioengineers announce a process to disinfect used N95 masks, clearing the way for an additional use.
• April 6, 2020 – Beaumont hits its highest inpatient COVID-19 peak of 1,318 patients.
• April 13, 2020 – Beaumont Health launches the nation’s largest serological testing study for COVID-19 antibodies, with the goal of identifying exposed individuals, identifying potential convalescent plasma donors, understanding disease transmission and contributing to a scientifically-based methodology for returning people to work.
• May 4, 2020 – SINK COVID-19 study launches with the goal of determining the effectiveness of a common, two-drug combination in fighting the virus – naltrexone and ketamine. Researchers aim to lessen the severity of symptoms by reducing the early and later side effects of the virus.
• June 9, 2020 – Some visitor restrictions are lifted as in-hospitals cases decline.
• Between Nov. 9 and 25 – All of Beaumont hospitals reimplement visitor safety restrictions as COVID-19 cases rise again as part of a Fall/Winter surge in Michigan.
• Nov 10, 2020 – Beaumont researchers seek participants for their AZD1222 COVID-19 vaccine study, a nationwide, Phase 3 study, which looks at the safety and efficacy of this investigational vaccine.
• Dec. 3, 2020 – Beaumont hits its Fall/Winter peak with 708 cases.
• Dec. 15, 2020 – Beaumont health care heroes receive first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
• Jan 10, 2021 – Beaumont more than triples server capacity after thousands in the community attempt to sign up for myBeaumontChart account after it’s announced that vaccinations for patients 65 and older would begin.
• Feb. 15, 2021 – Visitor restrictions are lifted as in-hospital cases decline to new lows.

A new normal

One year after the pandemic began, Beaumont is looking forward to a new normal as growing numbers of the population become inoculated.

“We have been waiting for the arrival of a vaccine since the pandemic began,” Dr. Nick Gilpin, Beaumont Health’s medical director of Infection Prevention and Epidemiology, said. “I’m confident this vaccine, and the others in development, will stop the spread of the virus and save lives. Yet, I also know it’s going to take some time for the majority of the population to get vaccinated. In the meantime, it’s critically important we all keep wearing masks and practicing social distancing.”

For Beaumont Health COVID-19 patient Heather-Elizabeth Brown, the journey back to good health has been long and twisted and includes in and outpatient rehabilitation. She currently describes her recovery to be at 80%.

“Reflecting back, I’m grateful Beaumont even had a ventilator to put me on back during that first surge. I was on it for 31 days. I’m also grateful to my team for getting me off. That’s not something many patients were blessed with back then.”

It took until mid-September for Brown to return to work as a corporate trainer working from home part time. Daily medical appointments continued through the Christmas holidays and even now, occur at least weekly.

On March 1, 2021, Brown celebrated her first full week back to work.

She explained, “Until you go through something like this, you don’t really know: ‘Am I going to lay down and rollover? Or am I going to push through?’ My Beaumont caregivers faced the same questions. I am extremely proud and most delighted to say, I think together we found where our resilience lies.”

By the Numbers

• Number of COVID-19 inpatient cases treated to date at a Beaumont hospital: more than 12,000 patients
• Number of COVID-19 tests performed by Beaumont Laboratory Services: 316,097 tests resulted, 26,707 positive results
• Number of COVID-19 tests performed curbside at Beaumont Hospitals: (Mar – May 2020): 20,883
• Number of COVID-19 vaccine doses given/shots in arms: 143,140
• Three vaccine clinics capable of delivering 50,000 doses per week
• Total number of calls from the community to Beaumont’s COVID-19 Information/Vaccine phone lines: 145,033

Beaumont Health
Beaumont Health is Michigan’s largest health care system and is most preferred for health care in Southeast Michigan, according to NRC Health survey data. The not-for-profit organization was created to provide patients with greater access to compassionate, extraordinary care, every day. Beaumont Health has a total net revenue of $4.7 billion and consists of eight hospitals with 3,429 beds, 145 outpatient sites, nearly 5,000 physicians, 38,000 employees and 3,500 volunteers. In 2018, Beaumont Health had about 178,000 inpatient discharges, 18,000 births and 573,000 emergency visits. For more information, visit beaumont.org.

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