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Hospital Administrator Keeping Clinicians Safe, Helping Patients Connect Virtually

Despina Dalton, MD, MBA, CPE, RPh, CNS, FAAP, FACHE
American Board of Pediatrics
Specialty: Pediatrics
Subspecialty: Pediatric Emergency Medicine

Sometimes fighting the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is not about providing direct patient care, but about caring for the clinicians who are.

As a hospital administrator, Dr. Dalton has worked tirelessly since the COVID-19 outbreak began to ensure that the physicians and medical staff have everything they need to care for patients who present to the 108-bed community hospital where she works. Dr. Dalton monitors the equipment and supplies, so she knows when to obtain more medications, personal protective equipment, continuous renal replacement therapy machines, and ventilators, among others. Often this requires detailed logistics, moving these supplies from various institutions in the 11-hospital system to which WellStar Douglas Hospital belongs. Dr. Dalton also supports sister hospitals by providing whatever items she has in surplus when they are in need.

Earlier in the outbreak, Dr. Dalton established daily 30-minute COVID-19 updates for medical staff. She relies on the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection and Georgia’s Department of Public Health as well as from such institutions as Mayo Clinic and Emory University Hospital.

Dr. Dalton also arranged for computer tablets and worked with the hospital system to install a program allowing for virtual visits among patients, family members, and physicians. One hospitalized elderly couple infected with the virus used the tablets to communicate with each other. Ultimately, the husband was placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit and, sadly, passed away. His wife was thankful for the virtual visits and the opportunity to see him before he lost his life, she said.

Dr. Dalton knows first-hand how frightening and isolating being admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 can be for patients and their loved ones. Her cousin’s husband died from COVID-19 complications in February in New York. Her cousin could not visit her husband when he was in the intensive care unit because she was also symptomatic. After he passed away, she could not have a funeral for him. His body was cremated because his remains could not be stored. “It was an emotional time for the entire family,” Dr. Dalton said.

Through all the tragedy caused by COVID-19, she remains inspired by the humanity she observed in her colleagues. “I watched physicians come together for the good of all involved at a level that I have never seen before,” Dr. Dalton said. They were helping all staff with the donning/doffing of personal protective equipment and power air-purifying respirators. They were helping distribute medications, moving ventilators, proning patients, and tracing exposures. They were making sure everyone had a break and/or their meals, stepping in so that no one was put at risk needlessly, and truly caring about the well-being of every single staff member as well as the patients. “I am in awe at how we came together as a profession during this pandemic and how we all tried to share information, experiences, tips, and advice…and how we cared for each other,” she said.

Certified by the American Board of Pediatrics, Dr. Dalton serves as Vice President of Medical Affairs, Hospital Chief Medical Officer, Physician Advisor, and Interim Quality and Patient Safety Director at WellStar Douglas Hospital in Douglasville, Georgia.

(Published: July 30, 2020)

Read more stories from the COVID-19 front lines.

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