A group of extraordinary alumni from the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Class of 1981 are leaders in local area healthcare systems—and their roles have taken on new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the early stages of the local outbreak, Adele Battaglia’s hospital was converted into Catholic Health’s official COVID-19 Treatment Facility. “As part of the transformation, the most important task we had was preparing our medications inventory to treat more critically intensive patients,” Battaglia says. “We went from managing a dozen critical care beds to potentially managing 60 intensive care beds while also creating multiple dedicated COVID-19 medical floors.”
Battaglia compliments the pharmacy teamwork of technicians, pharmacists, interns and students to being crucial to their success
She finds that pharmacy expertise is needed more than ever. “Since there is such an increase in our patient population, pharmacy needs have increased, as well as the pace,” she says. “Medication information, dosing, interactions, side effect profiles, IV compatibility and stability are part of our everyday communications with nurses, mid-levels and physicians."
Listen to the celebratory songs played at St. Joseph’s when a COVID-19 patient is discharged and sent home.
As Senior Director of Pharmacy Services for Kaleida Health, Andrew DiLuca holds daily meetings with clinical pharmacists and administration to review the latest data and apply it to patient treatment plans. Kaleida’s pharmacists review every prescription, working in tandem with the infectious disease physicians and pharmacy faculty preceptors to provide optimal critical patient care.
His biggest challenge during the pandemic? Supply chain issues.
“Drug shortages are nothing new to us, but the shortages we are seeing now are magnified,” he says. “We discuss medication usage patterns, availability and current inventories daily to not only maintain enough supply to treat our current patient load, but to plan for the predicted surge of inpatients.”
DiLuca is proud of his team. “For me personally, the reward has been to see how the pharmacy departments across Kaleida Health have showed up and stepped up,” he says. “The dedication, compassion and commitment of these pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, buyers and administrative staff is exceptional. I am also impressed by the knowledge and tenacity in which the clinical pharmacists and pharmacy residents have demonstrated during this crisis. I truly appreciate being part of this team.”
Since the beginning of March, Walter Ludwig’s role as president of Kenmore Mercy Hospital has been focused on COVID-19.
He has overseen a number of projects, including coordinating community outreach with the Town of Tonawanda Emergency Response Team, developing a COVID-19 transition unit, educating staff on personal protection equipment (PPE), and providing screening protocols for facility entry.
Ludwig is impressed with the remarkable innovation shown by pharmacists. “The increase in ventilator use requires a great deal of input from pharmacists due to the need for a wide range of infusion therapies” he says. “Also, because of reduced drug supply, pharmacists are needed to help develop new protocols and substitutes.”
Despite the challenges, Ludwig remembers to celebrate the successes. “When our first COVID-19 ventilator patient was successfully extubated and moved out of ICU, we went around passing out congratulations and 100 boxes of Girl Scout cookies! Those are the good moments.”
Barry Martin observes his team of pharmacists at Millard Fillmore Hospital becoming closer during the pandemic, despite the mounting challenges presented to them.
“We are making twenty times the number of critical care IV infusions because so many COVID-19 patients are vented,” Martin says. Pharmacists also have to review and verify all medication orders—a rapidly increasing number—to ensure appropriateness and safety.
“Pharmacists, in conjunction with other health care providers, were instrumental in developing algorithms that ensured patients on hydroxychloroquine met certain criteria before the drug could be administered,” he says. “Due to short supply of albuterol inhalers, our staff also helped lead development of algorithms to preserve our supply.”
Martin believes in the resilience of pharmacists. “In general pharmacists have very optimistic and positive outlooks, knowing that we will weather this storm, and we will be stronger because of it.”
The pandemic brought Jim Millard out of retirement and back into the workforce to lead efforts at Western New York’s only dedicated COVID-19 Treatment Center. His new routine now consists of long but rewarding days where he works with system leadership, hospital presidents, chief nursing officers and managers to ensure all Catholic Health’s facilities are appropriately staffed. This involves assessing the system’s entire workforce to ensure it can handle patient surge with limited resources.
“Numerous times over the past few weeks, I’ve used the phrase ‘we’re treading water while we’re building the ark’,” he says. “We need to take care of the patients that we have today while building the capacity to take care of a significantly higher number of very sick patients tomorrow.”
Millard says it’s extremely rewarding to work with such dedicated and compassionate health care professionals. “I am proud to be part of a team so focused on providing excellent care to our patients, protecting our staff and serving the community during this time of crisis.”
Edward Swinnich has been at Catholic Health for his 40+ year career. His guiding principle has always been “pharmacy needs to be everywhere—leading, collaborating, challenging, consulting and improving patient care.” Swinnich’s team was integral in transitioning St. Joseph’s Campus from a community hospital to a COVID-19 Treatment Center with 24-hour pharmacy services.
“Supporting patient care at our COVID site has been a massive undertaking,” he says. “Our clinical pharmacists are working directly with providers as part of the care team and our IV room is active around the clock, batching infusions and preparing patient-specific IVs. We also had to reconfigure dispensing equipment throughout our system.”
What has surprised Swinnich most is the number of pharmacists, pharmacy residents, and pharmacy interns who have volunteered to work at the Treatment Center. “The dedication to patient care throughout the system is palpable,” he says. “It really is an honor to be a part of this team of dedicated professionals.”