Even though our campuses may look different during this time, our mission remains the same: Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life.

HCA Healthcare’s Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, Texas

The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched us in ways we couldn’t imagine – and, has presented our physicians and caregivers with unique opportunities to care and serve. Meet Dr. George Ford, an HCA Healthcare internal medicine physician at affiliate Methodist Healthcare in San Antonio, Texas, who started experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive for the virus early in the pandemic.

Shortly after Dr. Ford was diagnosed with COVID-19, misfortune struck again – his wife, Karen, contracted the virus too and was admitted to HCA Healthcare’s Methodist Hospital Stone Oak’s intensive care unit (ICU). Due to the severity of her condition, colleagues arranged for her transfer to nearby sister facility Methodist Hospital, where she would receive more specialized care in a dedicated COVID-19 ICU.

Dr. Ford with his wife Karen after she arrives home from being discharged from the ICU.

Prior to the pandemic and Karen’s arrival, this 14-bed COVID-19 ICU unit didn’t exist. Most recently, the space served as an Emergency Department holding unit and was later transformed into a COVID-19 ICU by two of the hospital’s pulmonary intensivists, Dr. Charles Burch and Dr. Jairo Melo. They heroically created the unit because they understood the critical need for it. Together, the two physicians also assembled a highly trained, multidisciplinary team to run the new ICU.

Dr. George Ford, an HCA Healthcare internal medicine physician at Methodist Healthcare

“Dr. Burch and Dr. Melo had the foresight and courage to tackle this because they knew it was the right thing to do,” Dr. Ford said. “They’ve been able to work in such a collegial fashion because they’re excited about what they do. They’re monitoring research on the virus, learning as they go and drawing from knowledge about other diseases they’ve treated.”

Thanks in large part to the treatment and the exceptional care she received, Karen has returned home where she’s recovering well.

“I’m so grateful to the valiant nurses and doctors at Methodist Hospital’s COVID-19 unit,” Dr. Ford said. “I also owe tremendous applause to the hospital CEO, Dan Miller, who supports our physicians and gives them the latitude to move ahead. And I know that without the Lord’s strong hand, my wife would not have survived.”

Learning Health System

Thanks to our learning health system, HCA Healthcare continues to deploy its scale and skill to deliver the best possible health outcomes in the midst of a fast-developing, ever-changing pandemic.

HCA Healthcare was one of the first hospital systems in the United States to experience the effects of COVID-19. Our hospitals in San Jose, California began confronting this pandemic nearly a month before other hospitals and localities in the nation. We learned valuable lessons about social distancing and threat mitigation. For example, limiting physical access to the hospital was effective in mitigating community spread. Closing points of entry, posting additional security guards and reducing the flow of visitors helped immensely.

Our experience in San Jose provided us with real-time data, which the data analytics team spun up within a week into an enterprise wide predictive analytic tool to predict how many cases a hospital is expected to get, as well as the speed and severity of the outbreak. This told us we needed more ICU beds.

HCA Healthcare has now developed a calculator for use in all of our hospitals. The calculator uses such variables as CDC estimates about transmissibility of the disease, the average daily patient population under normal circumstances, the population of the area surrounding the hospital, the current speed of transmissibility (what trajectory we are on, etc.) and the current level of mitigation taken in a jurisdiction (social distancing, closure of bars/restaurants, shelter in place, etc.).

Based on these analytics, we can estimate how many ICU beds will be needed across our system. Our hospitals are already identifying rooms that are prime candidates to be converted into additional ICU capacity—if and when they are needed. Certain criteria make a room a good candidate for conversion—small rooms with limited access (to limit community spread) plus rooms with sufficient infrastructure to support ventilators.

HCA Healthcare has always been proud of our mission. Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life. This challenge is no different. “As a learning health system, we use our data to conduct research and create innovative tools that improve patient outcomes,” said Dr. Michael Schlosser, vice president of clinical excellence and surgical services. “We are working around the clock to increase our capacity in order to handle the influx of patients.”

There has never been a more important time to be working in our profession, and we thank our physicians and caregivers who are working tirelessly on behalf of our patients.

Nashville-based HCA Healthcare is one of the nation’s leading providers of healthcare services, comprising 186 hospitals and approximately 2,000 sites of care, including surgery centers, freestanding ERs, urgent care centers, and physician clinics, in 21 states and the United Kingdom.