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A Military Veteran Shares His Experience on the COVID-19 Front Lines

James R. Ficke, MD
American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery
Specialty: Orthopaedic Surgery

It took just a few minutes for James Ficke, MD to agree to become the director for the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital for COVID-19 patients.

“It may be a cliché, but I believe that health care professionals are called to serve the greater good,” said Dr. Ficke. “With my patients’ elective orthopaedic surgeries on hold during the pandemic, I was available and eager to serve on the front lines to fight COVID-19.”

Coming from Dr. Ficke, “front lines” is no hyperbole. Dr. Ficke is a retired colonel, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army. In 2004 and 2005, he was Deputy Commander of Clinical Services for the 228th Combat Support Hospital in Mosul, Iraq. Dr. Ficke supervised 15 physicians and managed 19 mass casualty incidents resulting in 1,600 trauma resuscitations.

The Facility
At the request of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a 250-bed field hospital was quickly constructed within the Baltimore Convention Center by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Guard. The 100,000-square foot alternative care site offers acute care for people infected with COVID-19 but who are now stable enough to leave area hospitals.

While the hospital is licensed and run by the state of Maryland, personnel from Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center were selected to supervise the medical care. More than 1,200 professionals — including 75 licensed and board certified physicians — were hired from outside of the Baltimore system to work at the hospital, ensuring that staffing levels at the local hospitals were not reduced. Many of these professionals were available due to the national suspension of elective surgeries care, and they were ready to help provide short-term care for the people of the Baltimore area.

The Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital was built and staffed within a mere three weeks. While this facility has not reached full capacity, it has provided a critical release valve for area hospitals, freeing them to care for the sickest of patients, and to resume non-critical care more quickly.

The Future
Dr. Ficke believes that there is at least one positive aspect to come out of this global crisis. “As in war, we have united to fight a common threat. With the ‘all hands on deck’ urgency of this virus, we are seeing a much-needed breakdown of the silos that have naturally formed as medical specialization has become more pronounced. During this crisis, we have united and used the best of each of our specialties and our own humanity to provide the best care for our patients. We need to keep this collaborative spirit going strong.”

Anticipating small and large COVID-19 infection surges in the coming months, there are no plans to close the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital anytime soon, according to Dr. Ficke. “We will stay the course here until the state is certain Baltimore-area patients no longer need us.”

Certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS), Dr. Ficke serves as Director of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, widely considered one of the world’s top hospitals and medical institutions. He has served as an ABOS volunteer for many years, including roles as an oral examiner and question writer.

(Published: June 10, 2020)

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