CHRISTUS Health Systems Prepare for COVID Vaccine Distribution to Health Care Workers
(Irving, TX, Dec. 9, 2020) – Facilities across CHRISTUS Health are preparing to receive, manage and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine internally to health care workers in the coming days and weeks.
“The use of vaccines has been a key part of combating and even eradicating certain diseases for generations, and we are confident the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective,” said Mark Anderson, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, CHRISTUS Trinity Clinic in Northeast Texas. “Though there is still a way to go, this process hopefully represents the beginning of the end of COVID-19.”
CHRISTUS Health has a well-established process in place for reviewing the safety and efficacy of new drugs that is being utilized to evaluate any COVID-19 vaccines that receive emergency use authorization (EUA) by the FDA.
“Our COVID-19 Taskforce is evaluating and planning for the storage and distribution of a vaccine across our ministries, including at CHRISTUS ministries across Northeast Texas, while following the guidance of clinical experts and the frameworks distributed by the Catholic Health Association, Centers for Disease Control, and State Health agencies,” said David Benner PharmD, MS, MHA, FACHE, Vice President, Clinical Ancillary Services for the Division of Clinical Excellence at CHRISTUS Health.
The COVID-19 vaccine will be available to all health care workers at CHRISTUS facilities in Northeast Texas, but is not mandatory. Similar to many vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine will be given in two doses: an initial injection and then a booster shot, normally 21-28 days later (depending on the vaccine administered). Research from the pharmaceutical company and CHRISTUS Health’s COVID-19 Task Force indicates minor side effects similar to the flu shot, such as low-grade fever and redness or slight pain at the injection site are possible.
“CHRISTUS Health has a plan, and we are working through it to ensure that our facilities, Associates and medical staff are prepared to receive, store and distribute COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they become available,” said Sam Bagchi, M.D., Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer, CHRISTUS Health. “We are confident in our ability to participate in the vaccine distribution and our ability to offer vaccination to all CHRISTUS health care workers who wish to receive it.”
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Wound Care Being used to Treat some COVID-19 Patients
(Shreveport, Louisiana) CHRISTUS Health is trying something new to treat COVID-19 by using hyperbaric oxygen therapy to sustain a COVID-19 patient through oxygen deficiency.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy isn’t new but, using it for this purpose is. Christus Health Shreveport-Bossier is the only facility in the region to try it. It started using the treatment in early May.
Dr. Susan Kemp, medical director of CHRISTUS Wound care and Hyperbaric Center, said “It’s one of the few tools that we have that can increase the amount of oxygen your blood can accept.”
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy was first used in the U.S. in the early 20th Century to treat wounds that wouldn’t heal.
“It uses physics to maximize the amount of oxygen you get into your bloodstream,” Kemp explained.
Most of the severe patients have a decreased amount of oxygen in their blood and inflammation. “And to have each of those things individually is very dangerous, but to have them together in the same patient it’s even more concerning,” Kemp said.
A patient’s organs could become involved. The hope is that hypberaric oxygen therapy will help avoid end organ damage.
“Just increasing the amount of oxygen that can feed your organs. We want to try to avoid damage,” said Kemp.
CHRISTUS and other medical professionals also want to avoid placing a patient on a ventilator.
“Our goal is to try to help keep anybody off ventilator that we possibly can,” said Kemp.
Using a hyperbaric chamber is just one more tool in a growing playbook to treat COVID-19, she added.
“I think all of us would be very happy if we all just woke up and said yes, we know how to address it. Because most disease processes we do have months and years to help fine tune. And we are not there yet but we’ll get there,” Kemp said.
Patients Spend Days Fighting COVID-19 Recover After Receiving Plasma Donation
(Shreveport, Louisiana) Philip Ortego and Natasha So’oto are engaged to be married. In May of last year, when Philip asked Natasha to marry him in the mountains of Tennessee this Northern Louisiana couple had no idea how much could change in a year. In late March and most of April they were forced to spend time away from each other. They spent 3 weeks in solitude from one another after they both tested positive for COVID-19. Thankfully, their cases were mild and they recovered while at home and in quarantine.
Philip is a a physical therapist and Natasha is a registered nurse at CHRISTUS Shreveport Bossier Health System. They both have handled a lot of tough cases. Everyday, they act as our health care heroes. But, more recently they took an extra step in helping others when they both agreed to do what they could to help others infected with COVID-19.
“A nurse educator at work, contacted both of us about the process of donating plasma and coordinated everything throughout the whole process,” explained Philip.
Natasha and Philip both describe the need to save a life as their driving choice to donate to the LifeShare Blood Center.
“Any chance of saving a life is worth trying even if it is a small one. We had heard in the media about the process of donating plasma and positive results that it could have for those that are very sick with the virus” said Natasha.
Natasha donated through a process called plasmapheresis. Philip followed with his donation 2-weeks later.
Virus-fighting antibodies that people like Philip and Natasha might have in their blood could attack bacteria and viruses. A plasma transfusion isn’t new in medicine, but treating it to fight COVID-19 is a new step. This week in cooperation with a national program led by the Mayo Clinic CHRISTUS Health hit a milestone and administered their 107th successful transfusion.
Plasma is a clear liquid portion of blood that remains after blood cells, platelets and other cellular components are removed. It contains water, salts, antibodies and other proteins. It is collected from healthy voluntary donors. Doctors are hoping to use virus-fighting antibodies that are borrowed from their recovered patients like Natasha and Phillip to help critically ill COVID patients. They believe that donations may help prevent, or cure the disease or both.
A recently published peer-reviewed manuscript in the University of Louisville Journal of Respiratory Infections details the work of Dr. Srikanth Ramachandruni, Department of Infectious Diseases and Pulmonary Medicine at CHRISTUS Spohn Health System,. He is the first author of a small but important study of investigational COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma therapy
” Few patients .. 7 to be exact.. had really positive outcomes to the point they got stable enough to be discharged in less than 7 days,” explained Dr. Ramachandruni. Dr. Ramachandruni who goes by Dr. Ram along with his other South Texas physician peers and others in ministries across CHRISTUS Health remain collectively engaged in important research endeavors. In cooperation with a national program led by Mayo Clinic, CHRISTUS ministries across the United States are employing convalescent plasma therapy in the treatment of COVID-19.
“CHRISTUS Health’s Institute for Innovation and Advanced Clinical Care remains thankful to all the physicians and research staff who have come together as ONE CHRISTUS team for this life-saving and innovative work,” said Pukar Ratti, MSChE, MSHCM, CIM, CCRP, FACMPE, System Director, Research & Academics. “Despite no FDA-approved treatment regimens available today for COVID-19 patients, our research institute at CHRISTUS Health is continuing to make every effort to connect our diverse patients with the best possible investigational and advanced clinical care options. The investigational COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma therapy is one of these public health emergency research efforts to develop a possible treatment for COVID-19.”
Dr. David Chee, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Medical Center’s Intensivist enrolled more than two dozen patients in the study.
“Unfortunately, the pace of science is much slower than the pace that this pandemic has forced us to take,” said Dr. Chee. “The overall experience has been good. The amount of time that it takes to usually set up a research protocol has been condensed to a relatively short period of time. Things are running smoothly now and I don’t foresee any problems in the future. It did take a bit of effort to set things up with the South Texas Blood and Tissue Bank, mostly due to lack of donors when this disease first spread to the San Antonio area. Through concentrated efforts, however, things have gotten better.”
Things getting better is more than just a hope for a team used to figuring things out and fixing things. Things getting better is their expectation. More positive outcomes is the goal on everyone’s mind even if it means plowing through complex regulatory approvals and setting sights on serving as many people as possible through convalescent plasma transfusion.
“In order to provide participation opportunities to every eligible patient across CHRISTUS Health, we have obtained extensive regulatory approvals for geographically spread-out acute care facilities. We are conducting this research in Texas cities like San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Tyler, Texarkana, Longview, Beaumont, and in cities in Lousiana; Shreveport-Bossier City, Alexandria, Couchatta, Lake Charles as well as in Santa Fe New Mexico,” explained Ratti.
Recently, a 94 year old patient in Northeast Texas underwent a plasma transfusion and after being critically ill ended up getting much better and was able to be discharged from the hospital on her 95th birthday. That patient story, and others are the reasons why people donate and why researchers keep looking for methods to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is convalescent plasma therapy?
Convalescent plasma refers to blood plasma collected from people who have recovered from COVID-19. The donated plasma is used to treat others with advanced illness. The plasma donor must have recovered from, and tested negative for, COVID-19 and be otherwise healthy.
The treatment is based on the function of antibodies – proteins created by the immune system that combat invaders to the body in a variety of ways. Some are capable of neutralizing a virus, while others work by mobilizing a range of other immune cells that fight off disease. It is not yet known by which mechanism COVID-19 antibodies might work, but the current thinking suggests that an infusion of convalescent plasma may boost a generalized immune response, known as passive immunity, until a patient develops a strong, targeted ability to fight the virus.
CHRISTUS St. Vincent tries new plasma treatment for COVID-19
(Santa Fe, New Mexico) That’s the hope of doctors at CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, where what could be the state’s first plasma transfusion for the disease was administered at 10 p.m. Monday in cooperation with a national program led by the Mayo Clinic to expand access to the experimental treatment.
Although the method itself is more than 100 years old, transferring antibodies — a protein found in blood that attacks bacteria and viruses — to treat COVID-19 is new.
Whether it’s a successful treatment for the virus causing the pandemic is still unknown.
But so far, hundreds of people across the U.S. have received transfusions containing the antibodies of people who have recovered from the disease. Reports published in medical journals analyzing data from the same treatment in China have proved promising enough to expand the experimental treatment here, and it’s even fueling a separate study into whether so-called convalescent plasma therapy could be used to prevent people from getting the virus in the first place.
The hope is that it will “help keep the virus at bay” and “possibly avert catastrophic illness in our community,” said Dr. David Gonzales, interim chief medical officer at CHRISTUS St. Vincent.
Medical officials with the hospital plan to reach out to more people in New Mexico who have recovered from COVID-19 to find more plasma donations and expand the treatment, Gonzales said.
John Caskey, a private practitioner in Santa Fe who works at the hospital, said he administered the treatment after the patient had been in the hospital for several days, needing a great deal of oxygen to survive.
The following morning, Gonzales said the patient seemed to be doing well. But it’s still too early to tell whether the treatment was successful.
In the patient’s case, being moved from the intensive care unit and requiring less oxygen will be a positive outcome, he said.
Christus Health, which has locations in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, has seen eight of nine people who have received convalescent plasma therapy either moved out of ICUs or had symptoms improve, according to the health network.
The first plasma treatments for COVID-19 performed in the U.S. took place in New York and Texas in late March following approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
In New Mexico, the FDA approved Caskey’s request for emergency convalescent plasma treatment within an hour, the doctor said.
As cases in the state increase, “we’ll be able to offer them what for now is still experimental, but it’s becoming front-line therapy to help people to see if they can improve symptomatically,” said Gonzales. “And I think there’s many ways you can deliver this as well.”
For example, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore have received approval from the FDA to conduct a more rigorous study into whether convalescent plasma therapy could be used to prevent front-line medical workers from developing the disease.
Dr. Shmuel Shoham, one of the researchers working on the study, said the treatment already has been used to fight other diseases, such as respiratory syncytial virus in babies.
For RSV, a synthetic version of what’s known as pooled immunoglobulins — or the plasma of more than 1,000 plasma donors — is available to reliably treat babies with the virus. A similar treatment was used for the Ebola virus.
The hope is that it could work for COVID-19 as well.
“It’s a bridge to somewhere,” Shoham said. “If the equivalent version of what we do for RSV … was available today, I’d say don’t waste your time on plasma.”
The Johns Hopkins research team plans to compare results against a randomized control sample of front-line medical workers who do not receive such transfusions to see if it can work as an effective prevention. Shoham said information could even be informative for researchers working on developing a vaccine.
Although the expanded access to the treatment that CHRISTUS took advantage of in New Mexico is not technically a scientific study, the information could still be useful to researchers, Shoham said.
“Ultimately we’re very much hoping that there will be a drug or a pill” for treatment and eventually a vaccine, he said.
CHRISTUS Health Offers ‘Game Changer’ Antibodies Test for COVID-19
Irving, Tx. – CHRISTUS Health announced today it is now offering a new screening tool to some patients, as well as doctors, nurses and other CHRISTUS Associates on the frontlines to learn who has been infected with COVID-19—AND—who might now carry protective antibodies.
“CHRISTUS Health is a safe place to receive care, with high-reliability processes and procedures for infection prevention and mitigating the spread of illness,” explained Dr. Sam Bagchi, CHRISTUS Health’s EVP and Chief Clinical Officer. “Beginning today, we are adding the unprecedented additional layer of antibody screening to help survey for asymptomatic COVID-19 infections among patients and caregivers.”
For the last several weeks, the team has quickly assessed the test’s reliability and then deployed the kits to CHRISTUS hospitals and ambulatory sites across the United States and Latin America. The test produces results in approximately 10 minutes and has been validated internally for screening for COVID-19 infections.
“CHRISTUS is the first in our communities, and is leading the nation by using advanced COVID-19 antibody testing to screen people in our facilities to determine if they have had a COVID-19 infection in the past or have one now,” said Dave Benner, PharmD, MS, MHA, FACHE Vice President, Clinical Ancillary Services.
The country’s leading scientists believe antibody-based tests to be essential in the war against COVID-19.
“This would be a game-changer in restarting parts of the economy more quickly and safely,” Dr. Harvey Fineberg, a professor in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote in an April 1 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine.
CHRISTUS will first begin using the test on Associates and caregivers on the frontlines. The rapid screening tool will also be used on hospitalized patients that the clinical team believes may have been infected with COVID-19 as well as patients who are scheduled for an urgent surgery.
“People should not put off urgent and emergent procedures, and should continue to seek the care they need. We know that, regardless of COVID-19, heart attacks and strokes have not stopped. We need to be able to treat people who urgently need to be in an operating room,” said Dr. Bagchi. “With the availability of an antibody test, we can test anyone who comes in for an urgent surgery. This will allow us to reliably know if a patient has COVID-19 before they start having symptoms or might normally be tested.”
This innovative screening solution is in an addition to the ongoing PCR tests many providers, including CHRISTUS, are able to perform. PCR is a laboratory technique known as polymerase chain reaction, and is the current FDA-approved test for diagnosing patients with COVID-19.
This is part of the work that CHRISTUS continues to do every day to keep its facilities safe from the spread of infection. To keep all who enter hospitals and clinics safe we have added the following precautions:
- Limiting visitors
- Screening everyone who comes through our doors
- Isolating COVID-19 patients to one area of the facility
- Random temperature checks for Associates
- Requiring all Associates and visitors to wear masks
- Using telemedicine to treat active COVID-19 patients, so their caregivers and support staff limit the number of times they enter their rooms.
Virtual medicine is now available in every one of the CHRISTUS ministries at christushealth.org/virtual-medicine
We continue to work in solidarity with our partners in the health care community, city and county leaders, and local health authorities to ensure our community is well prepared. Together, we stand united in our commitment to keep the people we serve safe.
At CHRISTUS, we remain vigilant in responding to this evolving situation, meeting throughout the day to ensure we are prepared to respond to present and potential future needs of our community. We continue to follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines for healthcare facilities located in areas, like ours, that are not experiencing community spread. We do have emergency preparedness plans in place and are fully prepared to execute as appropriate for our community circumstances.
CHRISTUS facilities remain a safe place for all to receive quality care. While COVID-19 is new, our processes and procedures in place for infection prevention and preventing the spread of illness are not. From physicians and nurses, quality and safety experts to those responsible for ordering supplies and keeping the hospital clean — all of our Associates are involved in making sure we provide a safe environment for our patients. Every single day.
March 2, 2020
CHRISTUS values the importance of collaboration and coordinated action for the identification and care of those patients exhibiting signs of the COVID-19. Which is why we continue to follow CDC interim guidelines and work non-stop, in partnership with local, state and federal government authorities. We are fortunate to be part of a local health care community committed to responding to the needs of these patients in the safest manner necessary.
In the event that possible coronavirus patients need hospitalization after screening, we have identified a portion of our facility as the best place to allow us to isolate and safely care for any potential patients without risk of transmission to other parts of the facility.
At CHRISTUS, we have always screened patient to our clinical points of access for international travel, to assess for various evolving infectious disease risks, including this one. If a patient meets the current CDC criteria, and is exhibiting symptoms consistent with the virus, we will isolate the patient in a private room and take proper respiratory precautions to safely assess and treat them
If you are ill with fever and cough or shortness of breath and have had travel to any region that has known community spread of coronavirus, please contact your primary care provider before coming to the clinic so we can be sure to provide you with the best care possible while doing everything we can to keep our community healthy.
It’s still flu season. We continue to encourage all our patients and the community to practice good respiratory hygiene habits, like washing hands frequently and covering mouths while coughing especially during times like this where catching the flu is a far greater risk.
In summary, the best things you can do to prevent the spread of illness are:
- Wash your hands well before eating, drinking, or touching your face
- Get your annual flu shot and
- Get a pneumonia shot if you have not already and are above the age of 65 or have diabetes or other illnesses that affect your heart or lungs.
CHRISTUS Health currently convenes daily, sometimes more, to check in on our emergency preparedness plans. We have had many hands on deck during this process. Nearly everyone — from physicians and nurses, quality and safety experts to those responsible for ordering supplies and keeping the hospital clean — is involved in making sure we can do best for our patients our Associates and this community we serve.
For the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 visit CDC.gov.