CU physician puts herself in the eye of the storm
Dr. Comilla Sasson fights COVID-19 in NYC field hospitalWendy Meyer | CCTSI Apr 24, 2020
On April 12, Comilla Sasson, MD, PhD flew to New York City to work for one month in a COVID-19 field hospital that had been assembled in just five days. She went to relieve healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic in the hardest-hit city in the world. While there, she is also writing a guide to how to run a COVID-19 field hospital.
Like so many CU Anschutz faculty, Dr. Sasson has multiple titles: emergency physician at several Denver area hospitals, associate clinical professor in the School of Medicine and Colorado School of Public Health, vice president of science and innovation in emergency cardiovascular care at the American Heart Association and longtime leader in the CCTSI’s PACT council. Add to all of this her roles as wife, and mom to a three- and five-year-old, and you get the picture of what she will be missing with a four-week stint at the hospital and two weeks of quarantine when she returns.
When asked about the biggest challenges she is facing in the Billie Jean King Hospital, which was erected in the U.S. Tennis Center’s practice facility, she talks about having to request essential items every single day (lack of PPE is still an issue), running out of medication and having to make decisions in what she calls a data free zone. She adds, “Knowing what you say today will change next week. The standard of care changes all the time.”
She also talks about the incredible health inequities she sees, “If you think about how vulnerable many of these folks are already on a day-to-day basis, then to add something like this [COVID-19] on top of it, it has hit minority population communities harder than any other.”
As the current Chair of our PACT Council, Dr. Sasson has a true heart and passion for community engagement,” says Donald Nease, Jr., MD, director of CCTSI’s Community Engagement program. She was an early participant in the Colorado Immersion Training program in Community Engagement, which led to pilot funding for a project she then developed into a community CPR program for diverse communities. This program has been adopted and nationally disseminated by the American Heart Association.
Nease continues, “When I heard that Dr. Sasson was headed to New York City, I thought to myself, ‘of course, Comilla would be the first to jump in!’”
As she compiles the guide to running a COVID-19 field hospital, Sasson says she has learned to keep the guidance simple and provide a lot of backups to whatever recommendations she writes. She says, “Know you will never find the right cocktail, you will have so many shortages of supplies it will be very challenging to have the one correct answer. That is really hard for us as researchers.”
More than ten days into her experience she reflects on the fear she started with when she arrived. Now she is more optimistic. She is keeping a Twitter video log where she says, “We can do this. We can beat coronavirus as long as we don’t get overwhelmed. And we can take care of every single patient just like we want to. I’m hopeful. We got this.”