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Flagler Hospital honors team after year of COVID-19

Flagler Hospital's "Fab Five" physicians
Flagler Hospital's "Fab Five" physicians (Photo provided by Flagler Health+)

One year ago this week, a tourist from New York who was in St. Johns County on his way to Bike Week was admitted to Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine -- the first person with the novel coronavirus hospitalized in Northeast Florida.

On Wednesday, Flagler Hospital remembered the arrival of that first case by honoring its staff that took care of that man and nearly 600 COVID-19 patients over the last 12 months. Flagler Health+ said it has also tested thousands of people and, more recently, provided thousands of vaccines.

“We felt it was important to commemorate the anniversary of the first COVID-19 case and recognize the incredible achievements that have occurred throughout this unprecedented time,” Flagler Health+ President and CEO Jason Barrett said in a statement. “I continue to be awed by the resilience and unwavering commitment that our team has demonstrated through what many consider to be the most challenging time in our immediate history. I could not be more proud of our staff.”

Flagler Health+ announced it will recognize each team member as a COVID-19 Hero with a commemorative pin. Close to 2,000 pins will be distributed in recognition of “the resiliency, sacrifice, and unwavering commitment to the patients served throughout a very difficult year.”

With the arrival of COVID-19 in St. Johns County, changes came to the Flagler Hospital campus. The most visibly noticeable change was an emergency medical triage tent established to isolate patients presenting to the emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms. This allowed patients presenting with unrelated illnesses and injuries to be cared for without the risk of additional infection spread.

Inside the hospital, dedicated units were established to safely care for COVID-19 patients, with many unknowns about transmission at that time. An inter-professional team made up of environmental services, facilities, supply chain, respiratory therapy, the emergency department, critical care and medical staff collaborated to set up these units within days.

And while the world was learning the best courses of treatment for patients with COVID-19 from each other in real-time, Flagler Health+ said its providers leaned on the expertise of each other to analyze, maintain and adjust treatment plans for each patient.

Chief Medical Officer Miguel Machado assembled a team of physicians to oversee and approve developing treatment protocols. That team, coworkers affectionately called “The Fab Five,” included hospitalist Jerome Tuitt, emergency care physician Brian Kiekover, critical care physician Javier Aduen, infectious disease specialist Vivek Manikal, and primary care physician Todd Batenhorst.  For months this team rotated call every day and night, providing guidance and support for achieving the best outcomes for our patients with COVID-19 diagnosis.

Flagler Health+ said their collaboration helped chart the course for recovery for patients, with some of the best outcomes in the state.

“This pandemic required us to be nimble while also laser-focused,” recalls Chief Clinical Officer Nangela Pulsfus. “The fear of the unknown could have been a barrier; however, this is not what we experienced. ... Teams were working closely together to navigate these uncharted territories, including opening additional beds, conserving PPE, increasing safety surveillance, managing shortages of medication and PPE and, most recently, managing the vaccination clinics.”

Flagler Hospital's emergency room team (Photo provided by Flagler Health+)