Yale leaders talk about COVID-19: Yale Health Director Dr. Paul Genecin
This interview is part of a running series.
You direct Yale Health, which provides medical care for the majority of the Yale community. How has your team been preparing for the public health crisis we’re in?
Our team has been working at full tilt for weeks, with the focus and urgency this moment calls for.
We serve thousands of Yale students, employees, and members of employee families. Nearly all the undergraduates are away from campus, but many graduate and professional students are still in New Haven, and most Yale personnel live nearby. Our responsibility to give them first-rate care has a new dimension now — by helping them avoid COVID-19 and by treating them ourselves to the fullest extent we can, we’ll reduce the burden on local hospitals as the disease spreads and hospitals fill with the seriously ill.
Our main treatment center on campus is open, fully staffed and preparing for a surge in COVID-19 cases. We have postponed or rescheduled many preventive visits and elective procedures to ensure that patients with immediate needs can get hands-on care. Whenever appropriate, we’re doing telephonic care and telemedicine. This minimizes opportunity for contagion. It also frees resources for additional preparations that we know are necessary.
We’ve enabled our clinicians to order COVID-19 testing — patients who need it can get it through Yale Health at a dedicated site nearby. And we’ve been collaborating with Yale’s Schools of Medicine, Public Health and Nursing, as well as our colleagues at Yale New Haven Hospital. We’re also setting up an overflow space for patients. All this gives me confidence that we will face this extraordinary challenge standing shoulder to shoulder, even if six feet apart.
As a reminder: What should people do if they have fever and/or respiratory symptoms?
If you have fever, cough, difficulty breathing, malaise, fatigue or muscle aches, stay home and contact your primary care provider. It is vital that patients call by telephone before coming to the Yale Health Center, or any other medical facility. Most people who become infected with COVID-19 will not require hands-on medical intervention — but they could easily spread it to someone who would. We regularly update our guidelines and care recommendations, sometimes by the hour. You can find them on the homepage of our website.
You mentioned that you’re setting up an overflow space for patients. What can you tell us about that?
The Yale Health Center has a limited in-patient clinic that would not be able to accommodate members of the Yale community who might become severely ill with COVID-19. As a result, Yale Health staff are preparing space in the Lanman Center at Payne Whitney gymnasium. If necessary, it could be activated to handle patients from the Yale community who cannot be treated at the center. We hope we never have to use it. But it could support those who are unable to care for themselves at home, yet are not sick enough for hospital admission. While this space would not be meant to serve as ICU overflow from Yale New Haven Hospital, it would offer general care — monitoring of vital signs and provision of food and hydration, for instance. It also is likely to house some COVID-19 patients who are well enough to return home, but who should remain sequestered from elderly or immune-compromised relatives. The temporary facility would help prevent these members of the extended Yale community from needing to go to the hospital. As I mentioned earlier, mitigating transmission of the disease within Yale will ease the strain on local hospitals and clinics, benefitting New Haven as a whole.
How is your staff doing?
This disease outbreak is bringing out the best in the Yale Health team, with many people taking on new and unfamiliar but necessary roles. We’re taking measures to keep ourselves healthy, so that we’re in a position to help others when they need it most. As we arrive in the morning, greeters meet us with masks and thermometers and remind us of the unusual precautions we ourselves must take in light of COVID-19. This is a time for courage, and our staff is showing it. The campus looks empty, but our people are here in the flesh every day. We know our entire community is relying on us. We will be ready.