— A Letter from
Patricia S. Maysent
Amid Tears and Fears, determination, hope and unity of purpose
At the time, all we knew was that Wuhan was ground zero for a spreading, previously unknown viral infection. People were dying and there was no existing medical literature, nor any test, for the virus that would be called SARS-CoV-2.
Nonetheless, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar would soon receive a military plane containing multiple Wuhan evacuees; some of whom were possibly infected by the mysterious coronavirus.
Knowing our advanced capabilities as an academic medical center, particularly in the relevant areas of infection prevention and control, public health and respiratory disease, it was actually an easy decision. “This is what we are meant to do,” I thought.
We quickly opened our Hospital Command Center (HCC) and mobilized. Typically, an HCC event lasts roughly a week, maybe two. In this case, weeks became months, then months became more than a year. Time blurred. Zoom calls and masking became as routine and commonplace as handwashing. It would be 412 days between our first case of COVID-19 and the first day when we recorded no new infections.
The pandemic has been the most extraordinary event of my career, and likely for many others. Every single employee of UC San Diego Health was impacted, from custodians, nurses and nutritionists to supply chain managers, screeners, administrators and physicians. Everyone played a role in slowing or stopping the virus and saving lives.
We worked the same hours as COVID-19, which was constantly, day and night, weekends too. It was a coordinated effort of monumental proportions that led to formations of new teams and new levels of trust and innovation that propelled us forward, out of fear and into a new normal.
I cannot write about the pandemic without acknowledging those who died from the virus and whose families were devastated by the loss of loved ones. These tragedies happened disproportionately in many of our underserved and under-reached communities, a historical condition and injustice that shall remain a focus of UC San Diego Health, even as COVID-19 hopefully recedes into the background and our memories.
I’m often asked what about our response I am most proud. There is no single answer. We were first in the region to treat patients with COVID-19; first to open vaccine clinical trials; first to offer a mobile ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), a type of machine that pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body; first to vaccinate our employees and first to open a vaccination superstation to the public.
We led the way on CA Notify, a mobile solution to identify new exposures of COVID-19 in the community and state. Our nurses and specialists travelled to other hospitals in the United States and Mexico to teach new lessons and insights in the art of critical care; they returned to help vaccinate too. What all of these achievements have in common are unbounded compassion, brilliance and determination that characterizes the people of UC San Diego Health.
For every article in this magazine, I know there were hundreds more unwritten that could tell story of bravery, drive and connectedness during the pandemic. I thank all of my team members for their selfless contributions. I am so very proud of you and grateful for your service and kindness.
I would also like to express a deep and sincere gratitude to our donors, who stepped up at the same time to help us meet so many challenges. Their contributions of time and funding helped us rapidly expand and sustain our efforts to build testing capacity, acquire ventilators and surge supplies and launch multidisciplinary research efforts into new diagnostics, therapies and ways to monitor the virus. Their generosity saved lives and will help us in the future.
With lessons learned, I believe we move forward together, unified, a better and stronger organization.