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As COVID-19 surges, “mission control” team makes sure Minnesotans get the ICU care they need

To track ICU capacity and connect critically ill patients with the care they need, M Health Fairview and other health systems have come together to create a statewide command center.
Housed at an M Health Fairview facility, Minnesota’s Critical Care Command Center provides real-time tracking and manages COVID-19 patient flow for health systems statewide.

Turning the tide on COVID-19 takes teamwork. That’s why M Health Fairview has joined with other health systems across Minnesota, eastern North Dakota, and western Wisconsin in a coordinated effort to match critically ill adult patients with open intensive care unit (ICU) beds statewide.

Not all hospitals have enough ICU beds for every patient who needs one, when they need it. When that happens, hospitals need to transfer patients to another facility with an open bed. In our Critical Care Command Center in St. Paul – also called C4 – an around-the-clock “mission control” team tracks ICU bed capacity. When hospital ICUs inside and outside our health system are full or nearly full – or when an emergency department needs help finding an ICU bed – our dedicated staff find a place for the patients.

M Health Fairview is here to help if you think you may have COVID-19. Visit our COVID-19 Resource Hub for information about testing, symptoms, and care.

Locating hospitals that have open beds, the right equipment and staff, and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies can be a complex undertaking. Hospitals update their capacity data three times a day. That information – stored in a statewide database called MNTrac – includes how many patients of each type are at each location and how many patients are expected to leave the hospital in the next 24 hours.

The C4 team relies on that data to do its work. In addition to hospital capacity, placement considers each patient’s unique needs. For example, one person might need cardiac ICU care because of heart failure, while another might need neurology ICU care. Others are dealing with breathing and lung complications from COVID-19.

“Patient placement is always a little bit like a game of Tetris. You have to find the right bed in the right space, at the right time,” said Karyn Baum, vice president of system clinical operations for M Health Fairview. “It can be a challenge, but we’re ready to meet it.”

Before the pandemic struck, M Health Fairview was already establishing our own System Operations Center to manage patient access and flow through our system. As COVID-19 began to surge across Minnesota, our operations center took on an additional regional role. C4 is a partnership between the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Hospital Association, and health systems statewide. Both organizations have been incredibly supportive of the center’s work.

“Without open collaboration between different health systems and organizations, it would not be possible to provide this level of real-time tracking,” Baum said. “With it, we can make sure that Minnesotans receive the life-saving care they need, even as COVID-19 surges across the state.”

The C4 team gets medical expertise and support from a doctor staffing the center 16 hours a day, seven days a week. University of Minnesota Medical School and College of Pharmacy students have also rotated through the center. The students assisted with the center operations, while receiving important hands-on experience during the pandemic.

“It has been astounding and humbling to watch the pace of change, intensity of work, and willingness to go the extra mile by everyone throughout the system,” said Mary Jo Huppert, system director of M Health Fairview’s System Operations Center. “The M Health Fairview System Operations Center has been grateful to help support these efforts for the betterment of people across Minnesota.”