It was the same, terrifying story throughout the United States last spring and summer: As the Covid-19 pandemic exploded exponentially from coast to coast, frontline health workers faced an opposite dilemma.
Supply shortages were everywhere. Masks and other personal protective equipment, allowing doctors, nurses and medical technicians to remain in close quarters with the patients they were trying to save. Ventilators necessary to keep those same stricken patients alive.
In some cases, states found themselves bidding against other states for limited supplies. All were in a desperate state.
At Hoag, the challenges mirrored those of their compatriots across the nation. No one felt it more keenly than biomedical engineer Lee Santos. A former Navy man, Santos was now tasked with ensuring Hoag’s precious supply of ventilators stayed working, as more and more patients depended on them to stay alive.
Santos, like so many at Hoag, was equal to the task.
“My military background prepared me not to panic and to be very resourceful,” Santos said. “Use what you have on hand and try to make the best of every situation. Based on what we had, ok, this is the best route to go. It kept me level-headed.
“Whenever the respiratory staff are in need of ventilators, they reach out to us, and it’s our job to try and get them as many ventilators as necessary, or if one goes down, it’s our job to get it up quickly. When we can do that in a timely manner, that right there is rewarding, being able to watch what we do and have the respiratory team, after we’ve fixed the ventilator, put it on the patient and see everything work as it should.”
The Orange County Soccer Club has unveiled its new uniforms for the 2021 season – a return to competition and normalcy that both players and fans have been dreaming of for more than a year. To help introduce the new uniforms, OCSC and Hoag are celebrating their partnership by having them modeled not just by OCSC players, but by the Hoag heroes who helped shepherd the Orange County community through the darkest days of the pandemic back to the light of a bright and healthy future.
“We’re supporting those doctors and nurses so they can do what they do best,” said Lesa Blake, Hoag’s executive director of support services and supply chain operations. “You just get up and figure out how you’re going to face the day, and you do it. There were a lot of days where we knew it was getting worse and worse. But to have a feeling of purpose, because you know you’re helping people, is what kept me going.”
Blake is described by her Hoag colleagues as someone who does not seek attention. But as the pandemic raged and maintaining a steady supply chain meant life or death like never before, Blake and her co-workers on the front line never shined brighter.
With the likes of Blake and Santos keeping the supply lines open and maintaining the operational status of the supplies Hoag did have in the fight against Covid, a potentially greater catastrophe was averted.
Imagine the scene in “Apollo 13,” when Mission Control had to create, on a tight deadline, a carbon monoxide cartridge made solely from materials found on the stricken spacecraft in order to save the astronauts from certain death.
Now imagine a similar scenario playing out in hospitals across the country. But Blake, her team and the rest of the Hoag staff made it all work, in one case by tapping into the Hoag family’s roots: A general store operated by George and Grace Hoag in 1896 Wyoming called The Golden Rule.
In the early panicked days of the pandemic, when food and other essential items began disappearing from store shelves, Blake realized the Hoag staff, who relied on such access to store essentials because of the hours they keep, would no longer be able to support themselves. But keeping her cool and weighing her options, Blake turned a potential challenge for Hoag staff and the community into a triumph.
“I remember going to the supermarket, and the shelves were bare,” Blake said. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, there’s no food.’ I got to the hospital the next day and I was hearing from my colleagues that there was a shortage of food. But because one of my jobs is food and nutrition, I heard from my local vendors that the restaurants were shutting down and they had no place to sell their food to. So, for me, it was a perfect moment to put something together that would not only support our staff, but support our local community.
“We put together what we called the Golden Rule Store. We were able to provide [staff] with produce, milk, eggs, a lot of the staples. And because I have an Environmental Services department, we were able to reach out to the local hotels and get toilet paper. That was the biggest hit of all. For me, that was the most beautiful thing we’ve ever done in my whole career, was to support our staff in that way.”
And while the internal efforts of Hoag staff kept the operations running smoothly, the greater Orange County community stepped up in its own way to meet the needs of patients in crisis. Donations ranging across the spectrum flowed steadily into Hoag.
“We set up an entirely separate command center just to really respond to the outpouring of generosity from the community, creating masks for us, supplying food, all kinds of different things we found helpful,” said Hoag medical director of infection prevention, Dr. Philip Robinson.
Despite the enormous pressure to provide for so many amidst challenging circumstances, Blake and Santos and the rest of the support staff managed to find solutions every day, then watched as their hard work translated into lives saved.
“Every day, as I watch and work with Hoag staff, is inspirational,” Santos said. “Seeing what they’re able to do, with the equipment or minus the equipment, is an inspiration. If sometimes equipment doesn’t work, they can’t say, ‘I can’t take care of patients,’ and so they have to still perform their magic, and that’s inspirational.”