Opinion editor’s note: This commentary was submitted on behalf of several leaders of Minnesota health care organizations. They are listed below.

 

We all see the worst-case scenario footage of hospitals in Italy and now in New York: hospitals overwhelmed with patients with COVID-19. We grieve for families losing loved ones to this virulent disease in our state, nation and world. And we share the heartbreak of health care providers who are terrified that they will run out of beds and supplies needed to care for patients.

As the leaders of the state’s largest health systems, we have come together, along with our colleagues from across Minnesota, in a significant mobilization to respond to COVID-19. You have our commitment that we will be here for you — our patients, our community members and our health care workforce. Helping patients is the calling of our nurses, physicians and care team members, and we must do everything to support this mission.

Thank you to each and every person working for us for contributing in innovative and real ways as we prepare for a surge of COVID-19 patients. We will do everything we can to support our staff, including our physicians, nurses, aides, respiratory therapists, lab workers, environmental services providers, infection preventionists and many more. Nothing is more important.

Our priorities are clear as we prepare for a surge. We are working to keep our health care teams safe with the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need. This is an unprecedented global pandemic with a global supply chain shortage, but we are working around the clock to obtain PPE through suppliers as well as through the state’s emergency preparedness organizations, which extend from the local level up through the governor’s office to the federal government.

We are also closely following the latest guidance on the use of PPE provided by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This expert guidance for optimizing PPE is different from what we would use during normal operations because it is designed and tested to be used in exactly this situation — a pandemic when there is a limited supply of PPE. Conserving PPE for our health care workers treating COVID-19 patients is also why we urged Gov. Tim Walz to issue his executive order postponing elective procedures in all settings across the state. We recognize the impact on patients who were expecting elective surgeries, but it was the right thing to do.

The measures taken by the governor to implement social distancing and a stay-at-home order are intended to buy us valuable time to accelerate our preparations for a surge. We are using this time to rapidly acquire and replenish supplies and equipment, as well as build out capacity for airborne isolation rooms and more intensive care unit (ICU) beds. These are the resources that modeling and the experiences of others across the globe show we will need in Minnesota. Every day we are able to prepare will give us the opportunity to secure the space and equipment to save more lives. We know that some of these lives will be those of our health care workforce, whose drive to care for others propels them into the heart of this pandemic, aware that their calling puts them at risk.

COVID-19 is spreading broadly across Minnesota. As testing capacity increases, the number of confirmed cases in counties across the state will increase. This is why we all need to take seriously our role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Community mitigation efforts — including staying home — will buy hospitals time to prepare for the future surge of COVID-19 patients. Staying home will help slow the spread of infection.

Even in this time of social distancing, your health care providers are here for you. If you are concerned about your symptoms, call your clinic or primary care provider. Your clinic care team will work with you to determine whether you should be screened for COVID-19. We want to be sure you are receiving the right care in the right location. Based on your symptoms, you may not need to come to a hospital or clinic. Hospital care needs to be preserved for those who are acutely ill.

We thank the governor for issuing his stay-at-home order and for working in close collaboration with the health care systems across Minnesota. Health care leaders from across the state have been in direct contact with the governor and Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, providing their input and guidance as our state’s leaders make plans. Minnesota is fortunate to have strong leaders who are following the science of COVID-19 and putting the lives of Minnesotans at the center of their decisionmaking.

Finally, we thank Minnesotans for your willingness to disrupt your daily lives to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Hospital capacity is directly dependent on the intensity, duration and severity of an outbreak, and we and our health care providers ask for your active and continued help to flatten the curve. In line with Gov. Walz’s executive order — stay home, Minnesota.

Signatories to this article are Dr. Kevin Croston, CEO, North Memorial Health; Jennifer DeCubellis, CEO, Hennepin Healthcare; Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, president and CEO, Mayo Clinic; Dr. Marc Gorelick, president and CEO, Children’s Minnesota; James Hereford, president and CEO, Fairview Health Services; Dr. David Herman, CEO, Essentia Health; Dr. Ken Holmen, president and CEO, CentraCare; Andrea Walsh, president and CEO, HealthPartners; Dr. Penny Wheeler, president and CEO, Allina Health; and Dr. Rahul Koranne, president and CEO, Minnesota Hospital Association.