The 2018 flu season in Ohio was bad, with the number of hospitalizations pushing many hospital systems to the limit in both available beds and resources to care for patients. Mercy Health carefully tracked patient numbers across its footprint to direct people and resources where they were needed most. It was an early indication of how important it is to have a system in place for load balancing patients.

In computing, load balancing refers to the process of distributing a set of tasks across multiple resources to drive efficiencies in overall processing.

In health care, load balancing refers to distributing patient loads evenly throughout different points of care to avoid overcrowding and potentially overwhelming individual hospitals. This concept would take on added importance as the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Through the Health Collaborative, Cincinnati-area health care systems already work together regularly on healthcare improvement projects and to share best practices. In the face of COVID-19, the systems – typically fierce competitors – collaborated closely and tirelessly to coordinate their response. The goal was to ensure their ability to deliver the best possible evidence-based care for area residents. 

One of the Health Collaborative groups working on the response was the hospital team, which did remarkable work to prepare area hospitals for an anticipated surge in patients. Members of the team put competition aside to do what was best for patients.

“All of the health systems in region six of Ohio, which is the Cincinnati region, came together to make sure they were prepared and able to load balance patients if any one system became overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients,” says Cheryl Dalton-Norman, President, Conduit Health Partners, a business which grew out of Bon Secours Mercy Health’s internal operations.

“In asking how they could work together to make sure patients could get care they needed, they placed their own patient transfer processes with Conduit, trusting us and giving us access so we could see in real-time how many ICU and med surg beds each hospital had available to ensure patients were sent to sites where the right care would be available to them. We also looked at which outlying communities had patients so we could get them necessary care,” she adds.

While Ohio successfully flattened the curve and Cincinnati’s hospitals were able to cope successfully with the number of COVID-19 patients, the cooperation, relationships and leadership structure the area’s health systems established put them in a stronger position to manage the current surge.

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