Prior to taking over as president and CEO of Huntington Hospital two and a half years ago, Dr. Lori J. Morgan spent two decades working first as trauma medical director of Tacoma Trauma Trust in Washington, and then as president of Legacy Emmanuel Medical Center in Oregon.

She attended schools such as University of Washington, where she earned her medical degree, Stanford University, where she completed her residency and earned her masters degree in business administration Pacific Lutheran University.

During this stressful time for health care professionals everywhere, Morgan took time to answer questions posed by Pasadena Weekly about the measures she and her staff have initiated to provide the best patient care possible as COVID-19 strains hospitals and medical facilities around the world.

  Matt Rodriguez

Pasadena Weekly: What are you learning from the responses in states such as New York and countries such as Italy and China? How will the hospital implement the lessons learned?

Dr. Lori J. Morgan: Communities around the world are experiencing an ongoing patient surge from COVID-19 that is creating immense strain on medical supplies and caregivers. Huntington is implementing multiple preventative measures now in the event that a similar situation happens in our community:

We have set up surge tents in case we need to expand our capacity to screen patients who require hospital care;

We have a surge plan that we will activate when needed to ensure all beds at the hospital are available to care for the patients most in need;

We are working with the city of Pasadena to explore alternative care site options for our community should a patient surge occur and we need more beds than we have available;

We have temporarily restricted visitors from our campus, as well as canceled all elective surgeries;

We are actively asking for donations from our communities for certain unused and unopened medical supplies, as well as blood and financial donationsTime will tell which of these risk perceptions is correct. However, it may be overly positive to think that the chances will be zero. Psychologists have suggested that people have a tendency to underestimate their personal risks of experiencing negative events to help cope with an uncertain and scary world. This idea that “it can’t happen to me” is called unrealistic optimism and could explain the large number of people who think they face almost no risk getting the coronavirus.

We are watching closely what hospitals around the nation and world are doing to respond to this pandemic, and we are regularly reviewing and updating our protocols as necessary. Our caregivers are working around the clock to ensure our patients continue to receive the care they need, and the hospital continues to look for ways to care for our caregivers as well.

Are there plans to reach out to retired doctors and nurses for help?

As we have witnessed around the world, many caregivers are coming out of retirement to help fight this pandemic. Should the hospital require additional capacity, we will also consider that option. As the largest trauma center for our region, we have a pool of physicians that we could call upon to help immediately, and are working to expand that list to respond to COVID-19 as necessary.

With the current rush for food at grocery stores, if a surge of patients were to occur, would there be any way to help health care professionals secure food for them and their families?

We agree that the community should be prepared as we are unsure how long this pandemic will last. However, as various officials have stated, we have ample food available and do not need to worry about running out. The additional challenge for caregivers and hospital employees right now is a lack of time. We are working with our food services company to create a grocery store pop-up on our campus so that caregivers would have access to essentials like eggs, milk and other staples. This will be one less thing they have to worry about before going home to their families, pets and much deserved rest after their workday.

Could you describe the testing process? How long does it take? Do we have any testing centers in Pasadena?

The testing process has been an ongoing challenge at all levels, and we have been diligently working all possible channels to send our tests out. We are also hoping to have an in-house option soon. Due to the overwhelming volumes of tests, the labs running the tests have had significant delays in providing results. Even so, Huntington Hospital continues to only order tests for patients with possible COVID-19 who require emergency care and are showing related symptoms — for example, patients experiencing a very high fever and shortness of breath.

Patients who do not exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or aren’t ill enough to seek care in an emergency setting should call their primary care provider. If a patient does not have a primary care provider, we strongly urge them to look for one. Patients can also call urgent care if they are too sick to stay home but not sick enough to require emergency or hospital care.

Our telehealth capabilities at our community-based physician group, Huntington Health Physicians, as well as with our affiliate urgent care, Exer, are coming online as I write this to provide additional access to appropriate care for our community.

Also, I saw the video of Mayor Terry Tornek asking for donations of masks at Huntington Hospital. Are we in short supply? If so, are there plans to ask the state or federal government for help?

At this time, the hospital has adequate supplies to treat those under its care. However as more fall ill and require hospitalization, more resources will be needed. Like other hospitals around the world, Huntington Hospital has faced an ongoing strain on critical hospital supplies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While we continue to work with local health and other government authorities to address these issues, we are also asking our communities for donations during this unprecedented time. These generous donations help support our health care providers’ access to essential medical resources. We are enormously grateful to our community.

With Gov. Gavin Newsom estimating over 25 million Californians will be infected with COVID-19, what concerns do you have for your hospital?

We want to be able to provide high quality care to all of those who need our services. We are working with the city of Pasadena to explore alternative care site options for our community should a patient surge occur, and we need more beds than we have available. The state has asked us to be able to increase our capacity by 40 percent and we have a surge plan that we will activate when needed to ensure all beds at the hospital are available to care for the patients most in need. We are also collaborating with local public health departments as well as other hospitals via the Hospital Association of Southern California and the California Hospital Association.

If the disease were to disappear in the summer, is there a chance the disease will make a resurgence similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu?

Like any viral or communicative disease, it is possible that COVID-19 could resurface. However, we are still learning about COVID-19 and how long this current spread will last. It is important now to practice social distancing to flatten the curve, and to take as many precautions as possible.

Many Americans still do not believe in the severity of this disease. Is there a way you can explain the severity of COVID-19? Perhaps maybe a metaphor?

This virus is yet to be fully defined, so everyone should take great precaution. For example, we know the pattern of the flu — how it impacts various groups of society. COVID-19 is proving to be much more serious than the flu for about 15 percent of the people who fall ill, this is NOT limited to those who are over 65, though older age groups do seem to be more vulnerable. The COVID-19 infection can begin with typical flu-like symptoms, such as a fever or cough, but can rapidly evolve into shortness of breath, with persistent pain in the chest, confusion and bluish lips or face. It can also be relatively asymptomatic. We do not yet understand why it effects people so differently, nor are we able to entirely predict who will be severely infected and who will not.

Because this is a communicative disease that is transmitted to other human beings through droplets, if a sick person or unknown carrier touches a doorknob or coughs, a healthy person could potentially contract the virus after touching the same doorknob or by being in the vicinity of the person who coughed. Given its severity in some cases, great precaution is the best possible defense. Additionally, we do not have a medicine that can cure COVID-19, so if you were to exhibit these emergency symptoms, the hospital could only provide supportive measures and life-saving intervention.

This is why it is so important to practice social distancing or self-isolation to flatten the curve. Doing this is the best way to help hospitals through this time and lessen the anticipated patient surge. With that, alongside the generosity of our community, we will get us through this together.