As Cleveland braces for the thousands of people expected to flood the region for the Republican National Convention, area hospitals hold the same mantra that many Northeast Ohioans are likely following: prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
The health systems have been collaborating and preparing for well over a year in hopes of a smooth mid-July week. Officials with Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and University Hospitals have been meeting regularly with city and county officials and Cleveland's Division of Emergency Medical Services.
“We're cooperating as systems around public health, where none of us can solve the problems individually,” said Dr. Bob Wyllie, chief medical operations officer for the Clinic. “But we realize that sure, we're competitors in medical care, but there are some things in terms of public health where the citizens of Northeast Ohio would be aided in us joining hands and seeing how we can work together.”
From the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing to bombings in March in Brussels to the mass shooting in Orlando earlier this month, hospital officials cited other incidents in which hospitals had to deal with large numbers of patients in a short amount of time. They've been drilling together and with state and federal officials to prepare for any such event. They say they're ready for anything.
Each system has been tasked with responsibility of different venues. The Clinic, for instance, is in charge of staffing Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention will be held.
Normally, for such events, paramedics and/or nurses would be on hand. In mid-July, they also will staff the arena with a board-certified emergency physician, Wyllie said. They'll have ambulances on site for quick transport, with an exit that avoids much of the foot traffic, he said.
MetroHealth will staff entrances and, with the help of Cleveland EMS, the first aid village, Wyllie said. As the closest emergency department to the convention, St. Vincent is expected to see the bulk of walk-in appointments, he said.
“We are collaborating to provide medical services under the guidance and direction of local, state and federal partners,” according to a statement from St. Vincent. “We are working with the city of Cleveland on providing exceptional medical care to the visitors of the Cleveland area during the Republican National Convention.”
University Hospitals has been tasked with staffing the Global Center for Health Innovation and the Cleveland Convention Center, as well as providing medical care for law enforcement.
The systems also are providing delegates, media and visitors with a joint nurse triage line, where they can call in with questions about the nearest urgent care, forgotten prescriptions, medical advice and more.
“We also think it's a great way to show that health care in Cleveland is really robust and some of the best in the country, and quite frankly, that we collaborate together on important things like this,” said Dr. Michael Anderson, chief medical officer for University Hospitals.
Many MetroHealth staff members have been attending FEMA training in Alabama since 2014, even before the RNC host was announced. When Dr. Akram Boutros, MetroHealth president and CEO, attended the training a couple of years ago, staffers ran test scenarios including anthrax releases, Ebola, earthquake, a situation like the bombing at the Boston Marathon, a nuclear event and more, he said.
Since then, in collaboration with local providers and officials, they've run mock events with various possible scenarios.
“We feel very prepared,” Boutros said.
During the RNC, MetroHealth staff will be at the heart of the event to support federal elected officials and their health care teams. Boutros said they've limited staff vacations and have additional supplies and resources available.
The same rings true for other systems. The Clinic has cut back on vacation requests and has asked people to stay in town; many people are on call, including extra emergency physicians and anesthesiologists. For now, the plan is to operate just as they would under normal conditions and capacity for the patients who would be there in mid-July regardless of the RNC, Wyllie said. But they're prepared to shift gears if something else happened.
“At the Clinic we have adequate supplies for 96 hours of drugs, of beds, of linens, of you know all those type of things which we would need in an expanded emergency situation if it comes to that,” he said. “And we don't think it will, but again, it's better to be ready.”
Even Akron providers have participated in some of the prep, Anderson said. They're ready for any sort of surge in volumes that could mean sending patients to the Akron region. And everyone's prepared for a general increase in volumes during the week. Wyllie said hospitals are planning to staff up emergency departments. Again, just in case.
Wyllie said a lot of the collaboration between hospitals began with Ebola, when they coordinated possible responses with the city and county.
Infrastructure problems MetroHealth faced in January 2014 when pipes burst on its main campus prompted a conversation about needing stronger collaboration with other area hospitals and accelerated discussions about the need for a new campus, said Elizabeth Allen, MetroHealth's senior vice president of external affairs.
MetroHealth's new Critical Care Pavilion is slated to begin accepting patients about a week before the RNC. This is not a coincidence, Boutros said, noting that it will double MetroHealth's intensive care unit capacity.
“We view this as this is our core mission, and we want to be the absolute best at it,” Allen said. “We want Cleveland to be successful and for people to think that it was a wonderful experience.”
Health care is a competitive landscape, no doubt, Anderson said, but when public health issues — potential or in reality — come into play, they come together.
“The systems do the right thing,” Anderson said. “I think Cleveland should be very, very proud number one, obviously of getting the RNC. And from the health care perspective, I think the cooperation and collaboration is something that Clevelanders should be very proud of.”
"Hospitals are ready, will work together during RNC" originally appeared in Crain's Cleveland Business.