March 29 is a date Dr. Ryan DeCort will remember for a long time.
"I was in the office working and I got a phone call from my unit saying I had 24 hours to mobilize to our Army Reserve center in Fort Meade, Md. They didn’t know any further details," DeCort recalled as he shared his experience with Roxanna Gapstur, Ph.D., R.N., WellSpan President and CEO.
DeCort, a WellSpan Internal Medicine and Army Reserves physician, was among the first in the country to be deployed to New York City where he is working at the Javits Center army field hospital to support overwhelmed hospitals for six weeks.
This week, Gapstur connected with Dr. DeCort to thank him for his service, and to ask him any lessons learned through the experience she can share with our teams to continue to best arm ourselves against COVID-19.
DeCort’s deployment literally happened overnight.
"They didn’t know what we were doing, but they had a packing list and I had to be prepared to pack enough military equipment and personal things for one week, and once we got to Fort Meade, they would give us further instructions," DeCort explained.
"It was just a whirlwind. It was crazy," he added.
DeCort joined the military while attending Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant during his second year of medical school and later promoted to Captain upon finishing medical school.
After spending several years in Alaska and being promoted to Major, DeCort decided that he wanted to return Franklin County where he worked as a tech in the ER during medical school, so he transitioned from the military to the reserves.
Seven days after reporting to Fort Meade, DeCort made it to New York City where his unit was greeted by a hero’s welcome.
"People were hanging out of their windows, on their balconies, just cheering for us because we were there to help them," DeCort said. "It was pretty amazing. That was very touching."
According to DeCort, the military – in a matter of 10 days – created medical task force units. They were each comprised of 85 soldiers and aimed to support the health care systems that were inundated by COVID-19.
Then they created field hospitals, like the one DeCort has served in.
"To me it was just crazy hearing that within just a matter of 10-12 days we set up a 4,000-bed medical treatment facility – something that has never been done before. So, I was kind of excited, in a way, to come and be a part of this mission. It’s been a challenge working in a facility that was stood up so quickly," DeCort said.
DeCort’s mission hasn’t come without several other challenges that wouldn’t normally be encountered in a brick and mortar hospital.
Providing patients optimal care with limited resources was one of those challenges, according to DeCort.
Another challenge he noted was working in personal protective equipment. “Not being able to see your colleagues and who you are working with was a challenge.”
Documentation is also done on paper instead of using electronic medical record.
"This whole mission is paper, so trying to track down the paper chart, trying to find lab results, trying to find out what happened during your shift – communication is big," DeCort explained.
While Gapstur noted that Pennsylvania is beginning to see a curve flattening, DeCort echoed the same trend from what he has seen in New York.
Gapstur asked DeCort if he acquired anything from the frontlines of New York that could be helpful back home in Pennsylvania.
"Continuous social distancing – honestly that is the biggest thing. For medical professionals, or when you are on the frontlines, I think the biggest thing I would say is we need to identify our resources early, and after we’ve done that, we need to continue to do daily checks on the resources we have," DeCort said. "We want to ensure we have clear roles and responsibilities, that they are determined up front and you have great communication with your personnel – that is key."
As far as advice, DeCort said that being "flexible" is important since protocols are constantly changing.
"Everyone’s different and every patient acts differently. You just have to support the patient," DeCort said. "It’s very easy to get overwhelmed. We are all in the same situation. We are all in this together, and it is okay to ask for help."
Transcript of Interview