When the COVID-19 pandemic started to ramp up in Southern California, the Information Services (IS) department needed to move quickly to make sure Keck Medicine of USC’s technological needs would be met across all fronts — and under rapidly changing circumstances.

Business is now resuming in increments across the health system, which means the team needs to shift some technological settings back to their pre-pandemic states while making sure those still treating COVID-19 patients can keep access to the specialized technology they need.

Currently, the nation faces an uncertain future with no way to know if or when a second wave will strike or whether there are other serious pandemics in store a few years down the line. However, the experience that the IS team has taken from this event will serve to prepare them for a range of possible contingencies.

Partnership with human resources

“We were tasked with the multi-faceted effort of mobilizing a remote workforce quickly,” said Esme Leon, MIS manager of systems engineering. “We needed to expedite the ability to observe social distancing with minimal operational disruption.”

This remote workforce would start at a little more than 500 people, but would grow to over a thousand staffers who would need to work from home while also keeping sensitive information safe. The work involved implementing new security protocols and VPNs, as well as enabling virtual desktops across a range of departments so remote staffers could work in a familiar interface as soon as possible.

To make sure these changes met every imaginable need of the newly remote workforce, IS partnered with human resources.

“HR rolled out various initiatives that needed to be built into and accounted for in our personnel systems,” explained Royce Uehara, director of hospital business applications in internet services data management. “Adjustments were made to administrative leave and extended illness codes, which were essential to staff who are experience extenuating hardships related to COVID. We also provided solutions to help measure the impact that COVID-19 had on our staffing by configuring new time-keeping fields.”

Support for the caregivers

The team also was tasked with making sure frontline caregivers would have everything they needed, regardless of whether they worked in the COVID-19 units or other medical departments. According to Amanda Schmitz, director of hospital business applications in the shared applications department, collaboration between her team and the lab helped to deliver key clinical data to those who needed it, when they needed it.

As many medical appointments transitioned to telehealth, the IS staff had to configure hardware in conjunction with the technical requirements of virtual visits. They also had to stay ready to offer support to any caregivers who had trouble getting their new systems up and running.

Provider-focused support extended to COVID-19 units as well, with a particular focus on the evaluation and testing tents.

“Our COVID triage tent had an X-ray component for patients showing symptoms of the virus, which required image interpretations with rapid turnaround,” explained Ed Connelly, imaging systems engineer. “With teamwork and communication, we were able to allow radiologists to read these images safely from home. Being able to provide patient care while still observing social distancing has been essential to all people involved — from patients to providers.”

Facing a new normal

The entire Keck Medicine system is now equipped with technology and knowledge to face whatever the future has in store, in part due to the efforts of the IS department. As frontline staff treats an increasing roster of returning patients along with COVID-19 patients and administrative staff incrementally returning to onsite work, the IS department is ready to oversee their ever-changing technological needs.

In just a few days, the IS team was able to build Keck Medicine’s intranet site for COVID-19, telecommuting portals and resources for support, Care for the Caregiver sites and infection prevention app enhancements. This has proven that the engineers and technicians in IS can offer a level of adaptability, diligence and resourcefulness that will continue to prove crucial as business resumption continues.

“We didn’t lose momentum of our software upgrades to ensure high-quality patient care — in any landscape,” Leon said. “It was an essential reminder to our team that we can provide the technology despite a large volume of challenges.”

— Kate Faye