Torrance Memorial’s COVID-19 Response

An experienced team of infectious disease experts helped the hospital meet pandemic care demands while protecting patients, staff and the South Bay community.

  • Category
    Health, People
  • Written by
    Lisa Buffington
  • Photographed by
    Siri Berting
  • Above
    Dr. Eric Milefchik, Dr. John Kunesh and Dr. David Rand

As the COVID-19 death toll began to climb in China and Italy and fear began mounting across the United States, Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s infectious disease specialists—led by Eric Milefchik, MD, David Rand, MD, and John Kunesh, MD—were already getting ready for the pandemic’s inevitable appearance in Los Angeles County. Having an in-house team of expert doctors who are familiar with the intricacies of dealing with emerging diseases proved to be invaluable to the hospital’s preparedness and response efforts.

Backed by the latest scientific research and its on-staff team of specialists, Torrance Memorial was able to appropriately manage testing resources, offer some of the latest COVID-19 treatments, and protect hospital staff and members of the South Bay community. As early as February, Torrance Memorial began preparations to train staff and reconfigure key protocols to ensure the hospital was equipped to handle the projected surge in COVID-19 patients.

Implementing a Plan


“When we saw [COVID-19] coming in early February, we started getting prepared right away,” says Dr. Milefchik, the chairman of infection control for the medical center. “Research and data from other countries allowed us to understand the clinical syndrome before COVID-19 showed up here, and we were prepared for a much bigger surge than we ended up seeing.”

“We want to make sure we test people using the right test and, most importantly, get the right results.”

“Although it was certainly challenging, we were really prepared and remained well below our capacity to treat COVID-19 patients,” says Dr. Rand, chairman of Torrance Memorial’s special pathogens committee. “Also, our safety protocols worked. We had no patient-to-patient transmission and no staff-to-patient transmission.”

Part of the coronavirus response plan also included ensuring that Torrance Memorial had access to COVID-19 tests. “Although initial access to test kits was limited, our goal from day one has been to provide our patients and the community with the highest quality testing options that appropriately utilize testing resources,” says Dr. Kunesh, a pathologist who is the CLIA director of the clinical laboratory and medical director of the Blood Bank and Donor Center. “We want to make sure we test people using the right test and, most importantly, get the right results.”

Torrance Memorial achieved its goal of delivering accurate, timely COVID-19 test results through its on-site lab, which is staffed by a team of highly trained clinical laboratory scientists and equipped with specialized testing technology—including BD MAX and GeneXpert instrument platforms that allow staff to perform automated molecular testing for COVID-19. Molecular testing looks for actual bits of the virus that causes COVID-19 and is used to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection.

As more widespread testing became available, Torrance Memorial also opened an off-site, drive-through, appointment-only testing center. To date, Torrance Memorial has tested more than 4,000 patients for COVID-19. “Being able to provide in-house COVID-19 testing and get fast, reliable answers for our patient care teams was a critical component of our hospital’s ability to get through the initial COVID-19 wave,” says Dr. Kunesh.

Patient Care Expertise


As part of their day-to-day responsibilities unrelated to the coronavirus, Dr. Rand and Dr. Milefchik treat patients in their office at Torrance Memorial Physician Network’s Infectious Disease Center—as well as at the hospital—for infectious conditions such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, meningitis, tropical diseases, tuberculosis, MRSA and Lyme disease. They also work with hospital administrators to ensure the safety of hospital staff.

Dr. Kunesh, Dr. Milefchik and Dr. Rand were instrumental in bringing clinical trials for several novel COVID-19 treatments to Torrance Memorial. The hospital is currently participating in studies for the drug remdesivir, a biologic medication called tocilizumab and convalescent plasma therapy. Convalescent plasma therapy uses antibody-rich plasma from the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients to support the immune systems of patients who are experiencing severe COVID-19 complications.


Evolving Care for the Future


Unfortunately, no one knows what the future holds for COVID-19. “Should we see another surge, we are prepared to move quickly to increase our COVID-19 care capacity,” says Dr. Rand.

“Torrance Memorial’s role is to provide health care for our entire community, including people who have COVID-19 and others who require care for non-COVID-related conditions,” says Dr. Kunesh. “Right now, nearly everyone who comes into the hospital for elective procedures, as well as those who are ill and come into the hospital unexpectedly, receives a SARS-CoV-2 molecular test. While this process sounds simplistic, it is another component of the collaborative, comprehensive screening plan involving all levels of the hospital that have been put in place to keep everyone safe so the hospital can care for all members of the community.”

Despite the changes, concerns and challenges during the initial surge of the coronavirus pandemic, the entire team at Torrance Memorial worked together with one objective: providing outstanding care for COVID-19 and non-COVID patients. “We couldn’t have done it without everyone in the hospital,” says Dr. Rand. “It was a remarkable effort, and we thank the community for doing their part to shelter in place, which positively affected the impact of this health crisis. Together we have made the South Bay safer.”


Torrance Memorial Medical Center  |  3330 Lomita Blvd., Torrance

310-325-9110  |  torrancememorial.org

 

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