Putting safety first during a pandemic
UF Health Jacksonville’s Safety department swiftly responds to the threat of COVID-19.
Nationally, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused shortages of health care supplies and triggered the need for increased cleaning requirements and redirecting traffic flow through hallways and exits to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. UF Health Jacksonville’s Safety department was quick to respond to the threat of the virus and took all necessary measures on the downtown and north campuses.
Sandra McDonald, director of hospital safety and emergency preparedness at UF Health Jacksonville, has spent the past few months guiding the Safety team as its members learned new procedures and faced unique challenges related to the pandemic.
Closing exits and building temporary barriers
One major change that occurred in the early stages of the pandemic was blocking exits and directing all employee and patient traffic through specific entry points to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and have their temperatures taken.
“This was one of our biggest concerns,” McDonald said. “There is a lot that needs to be done to correctly meet the guidelines for blocked exits, and it also causes concern for fire safety.”
Something as simple as blocking an exit requires regulatory paperwork, close attention to detail and regular assessment. According to McDonald, the team also completes daily rounds to check the closed exits and assesses them every 30 days to determine whether they can be reopened.
Hallways on certain floors of the hospitals also required significant change. Barriers and temporary walls were constructed to help quarantine COVID-19 patients and prevent the spread of infection. This presented the same challenges as blocking exits and required the team to follow strict guidelines, including sealing the walls properly to prevent contamination and then monitoring the areas daily.
Managing supply shortages
Face coverings are required for all UF Health employees. In addition, fit testing is required for any employee wearing an N95 mask to ensure it is sealed properly and poses no threat of contamination for those working in high-risk areas.
“This is normally done once a year, but COVID-19 changed that,” McDonald said of fit testing, while referencing the limited supply of N95 masks that existed a few months ago. “We suddenly had a need to retest the majority of our staff, while also battling a national supply shortage.”
The fit testing kit includes a special hood and solution to help determine if the mask is completely sealed off from contamination. In addition to the shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, there was also a fit testing kit shortage. McDonald credits their strong relationships with vendors, the diligent efforts of the Supply Chain Services department and the generous support from the local community for making it through this initial period.
Handling new hazardous materials
The initial threat of COVID-19 also triggered increased cleaning measures throughout the hospitals. This required more — and, in some cases, new — cleaning supplies. According to McDonald, the cleaning solutions were delivered in 55-gallon barrels.
“We had to write completely original processes for the new types of flammable and hazardous materials coming into the hospitals,” McDonald said. “On top of that, we had to determine a safe place to store the large barrels.”
All of this required hours of research, labeling the new chemicals properly and writing the procedures for how employees should handle the materials safely.
The Safety department continues to collaborate with other areas across the organization and meet all requirements to maintain a healthy and safe environment for employees, patients and other visitors. UF Health is taking all necessary safety measures to help in the continued fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.