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Mirror Matter Consulting Partner, Jim Millard, was settling into retirement from hospital administration in early 2020. Then, COVID-19, as it did to everyone in some way, changed all that. Jim was called back to Catholic Health as they were faced with the unprecedented task of of managing at-capacity hospitals with more patients flooding through the doors by the hour. The following is what Jim had to say about his experience serving as Incident Commander during the coronavirus pandemic. 

As Incident Commander of the newly created Catholic Health COVID-19 Staffing Command Center, I was responsible for working with system leadership, the hospital Presidents, the Chief Nursing Officers, managers and staff to appropriately staff all of the Catholic Health facilities throughout the first wave of the pandemic. This involved working with the clinical leaders to develop new care models and staffing templates to handle this surge of patients with limited resources, hiring new associates, contracting with travel nurses from around the country, moving staff between our various sites, coordinating schedules, and quickly ramping up staffing at the St. Joseph COVID Treatment Center while maintaining sufficient staff at the other hospitals. 

Numerous times during the early stages, I used the phrase “We’re treading water while we’re building the ark.” We needed to take care of the patients that we already had, while building the capacity to take care of a significantly higher number of very sick patients.

When I received a call in March, I had been retired from healthcare for a little more than two years. I was working part time with my son at Mirror Matter, flipping a house with my son-in-law, traveling and enjoying time spent with my family.

I started in this new role on March 23rd, 2020, and my new daily routine consisted of working 12+ hours a day, coming home for dinner with my wife, one hour of television, sleep and repeat. There were no weekends, no holidays, no days off. 

I can honestly say that the long hours were well worth it. It was extremely rewarding to work with a great group of dedicated and compassionate healthcare professionals to see through this monumental challenge. I am proud to have been part of a team that was so focused on providing excellent care to our patients, protecting our staff, and in general serving the community during this time of crisis.

The biggest challenge that I encountered was staffing the St. Joseph COVD Treatment Center.  The hospital had two patients the day that I started, and peaked at over 100 patients approximately one month later, of which more than half were critical care patients.

As the numbers of hospitalized COVID patients had decreased by late June, we made the decision to close the Incident Command Center and hand the staffing responsibilities back to the respective hospital administrators. 

As I returned back to my retired life, I was left with a couple of thoughts. First of all, healthcare workers, especially the frontline nurses, are an amazing group of people who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to take care of their patients. Thanks to each and every one of them for stepping up without hesitation. Second, this pandemic has changed the way that we work, play, shop and live. I think some things will go back to “normal” once we move through this time of crisis, but others have been changed forever. Every person has a role to play in protecting themselves, their families, and the community as a whole, and I’m hopeful that everyone takes that responsibility seriously. This will not only help us get through the current crisis more quickly, but it will provide for a healthier community going forward.