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A Determined Descendant and a Navy Hospital's Response to COVID-19 | NEWS-Line for Healthcare Professionals

A Determined Descendant and a Navy Hospital's Response to COVID-19


On a Thursday morning at Memorial Hospital in Fremont, Ohio, Emil Althoff became one of at least 50 million estimated to die from the H1N1 flu virus in the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century, the influenza pandemic of 1918.

The 36-year-old W.T. Raleigh Medical Company employee was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. The pandemic wreaked havoc on families, its impacts felt for generations.

While today we benefit from a century of medical advancements, the non-pharmaceutical measures employed in 1918 are the same used in today’s fight against the 2019 Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19): social distancing, hand hygiene, surface disinfection, avoiding mass gatherings, and wearing face coverings, according to Capt. Juliann Althoff, chief medical officer for Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD).

“The fundamental public health measures remain the same,” said Althoff, great granddaughter of Emil Althoff, whose obituary hangs on the wall just inside the entrance to her small narrow office.

“Every day, my great grandfather’s story motivates me to do better.  It reminds me in a very personal way, why the work we are doing right now is so important,” said Althoff.

No stranger to pandemics, Althoff is a public health physician who served as the preventive medicine and force health protection officer for the Okinawa, Japan-based III Marine Expeditionary Force, where she helped develop the U.S. Pacific Command biohazard response plan, the template for DoD pandemic influenza plans, later implementing it during the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic often called the “Swine Flu.”

In preparation, Capt. Bradford Smith, NMCSD’s commanding officer, established three objectives: 1) protect the staff, 2) protect and care for the patients and 3) ensure personal protective equipment (PPE) is available now and in the future.
NMCSD assembled its Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) Team on March 10 to coordinate the response measures.

Everyone adjusted as the Balboa Café became carryout only, social distancing implemented, faces covered, telework encouraged, virtual appointments scheduled, and non-urgent services postponed, as the staff rallied to increase response capacity.
“NMCSD has an innovative Facilities department that was able to quickly transform spaces into negative-pressure rooms, wards, and operating rooms specifically to take care of COVID-19 patients,” said Cmdr. Jerry Cook, HICS Team operations section chief, and dual board certified occupational and preventive medicine specialist.

On March 10, a tan tent stood on the ER parking lot surrounded by orange cones and yellow barriers. A harbinger of the “new normal,” it served as a stop where patients could be screened for COVID-19 without exposing others throughout campus.

“This pandemic caused us to rethink the method by which we provided care to our patients. The tent operation is emblematic of that response,” said Capt. Devin Morrison, NMCSD’s executive officer and HICS Team Commander.  

On March 16, yellow tape cordoned the campus funneling pedestrians to entry points they were screened for symptoms.

On March 30, NMCSD debuted its drive-thru testing service and sent its final wave of Sailors to the USNS Mercy hospital ship.

At the drive-thru, vehicles were met by medical staff for screening. If directed, the patients rolled to the next station. 

That same day while vehicles rolled in the drive-thru, nearly 200 Sailors rolled out, emptying the courtyard at the other end of campus and boarding their buses for the trip to Los Angeles, joining 650-plus shipmates on the Mercy to support local efforts.
When it came to supply challenges, NMCSD wasn’t immune. “As most people know, it became nearly impossible to find ways to purchase various supplies, such as (hand sanitizer), masks, gowns, etc.,” said Lt. Devon Graham, NMCSD’s material operations division officer.

Smith commissioned a working group to extend stocks, and protect staff and patients. “To protect our staff and patients, we must ensure that PPE is available for the duration of the pandemic,” said Smith.

“During the COVID-19 Pandemic, NMCSD has provided support to several different areas of the fleet, ships on the waterfront, personnel quarantined, and other commands. We as a command have been able to conserve supplies in a smart efficient way, where we are able to support ourselves and other commands facing outbreaks,” said Graham.

NMCSD has continued to meet its mission with success.

“Despite the pandemic, we’re providing world-class care, we’re deploying on short notice, we’re supporting our warfighters, we’re protecting our staff and patients, and it’s all thanks to our amazingly innovative active duty and civilian staff,” said Smith.

Get more information about the Navy from US Navy facebook or twitter.

For more news from Naval Medical Center San Diego, visit www.navy.mil/local/sd/

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