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UPMC Susquehanna: ‘A new way of caring for our patients’

SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO UPMC Susquehanna between High Street and Rural Avenue, as seen in an aerial shot.

UPMC Susquehanna has continued to embrace technology during the pandemic.

Noting that they now offer 25 different specialties via telehealth, Dr. David Lopatofsky, chief medical officer at UPMC said, “We’ve learned that we can do things differently and we can pivot quickly to a new way of caring for our patients.

“Our patients told us it was more convenient, not just the convenience of doing it from the home, but not leaving work, not traveling, parking, disrupting the rest of their day. It was more convenient for providers as well,” he said.

Overnight telehealth is another way UPMC has found to care for patients.

“Where we may have the availability of a critical care doctor perhaps a few times in a night, using someone within our (UPMC) family and being at several hospitals is a more efficient use of that critical care doctor,” Lopatofsky said.

“Flexibility is key. We saw team members transition to be screeners. We saw team members from offices transition to help support the need in an in-patient center. We saw across the region, we were able to move staff to where the patients were, but also to move the patients to where we needed them to be to help us be efficient to care for their needs at any time,” said Susan Duchman, chief nursing officer at UPMC.

She noted that from a nursing perspective, staff had to transition to a team nursing model where “we had to rely on our nurses to be our knowledge workers and have other team members be our task workers.”

“The lesson learned from all of that is that it takes all of us and it takes teams. No one could do this alone. It took our physicians to come in from the offices into the inpatient world. It took offices to come to the inpatient world. It took departments to step up and do tasks that they probably weren’t doing before. We had just-in-time education for everyone, so that everyone was performing something that they don’t usually do,” Duchman said.

A change in the model in the way nursing is delivered will not eliminate the shortage of nurses nationwide but will help to alleviate a crisis, she said.

“We still need millions of workers across the nation,” she added.

When asked what she sees as the reason for the shortage of nurses in the country, Duchman, replied, “Nursing is a calling. You have to be prepared to know that you’re going to have to make a decision. You’re working the night shift or you’re going to have to miss something with your family in order to be there for your patient. For some individuals, that’s just not in their DNA.”

Breaking down other reasons for the shortage Duchman said it really depends on the ability to get into a school, have enough instructors and then have nurses come to the bedside and work. She highlighted career ladders that UPMC offers their nursing staff, which allows them to move to various levels in order to grow in their professional career.

Duchman also emphasized the importance of giving the medical staff, nurses and doctors, the opportunity to self-care. To be able to step back from caring for critically ill patients and re-charge. UPMC designated spaces for this purpose due to the stress of working through a pandemic.

“That was really key for us,” she said. “We needed to offer them the ability to take five, take 10 … take a break from what they were doing minute by minute and recharge.”

UPMC has also been focused on recruiting physicians.

“The attractions here for physicians are quality of life, a very high caliber of medicine, the collegiality of the medical staff, all working at a high level of academic experience.”

Lopatofsky said that in the last year, UPMC has attracted high-caliber physicians for orthotrauma, orthopedics, cardiology, oncology, radiation oncology and neurosurgery.

Citing recent trends of population movements away from urban areas, Lopatofsky said, “Being in a community like ours, that’s not quite rural, but not quite urban, we’re sort of the in-between that’s been an attraction for us. I think of it as one of the silver linings of COVID as that we were the right type of community with the right type of high quality academic medicine hooked up with a very large hospital system across the state,” he added.

In anticipation of working toward a designation as a trauma center, both Lopatofsky and Duchman said that staff from UPMC have worked closely with the local EMS personnel and local emergency rooms.

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