The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in unprecedented adjustments to intensive care unit (ICU) organization and care processes globally.
Did hospital emergency responses to the COVID-19 pandemic differ depending on hospital setting; which strategies worked well to mitigate strain as perceived by intensivists?
Between August-November 2020, we performed semi-structured interviews of intensivists from tertiary and community hospitals across six regions in the United States (U.S.) that experienced early and/or large surges of COVID-19 patients. We identified themes of hospital emergency responses using the “four S framework” of acute surge planning (i.e., Space, Staff, Stuff, System).
33 intensivists from 7 tertiary and 6 community hospitals participated. Clinicians across both settings felt that canceling elective surgeries was helpful to increase ICU capabilities and that hospitals should establish clearly-defined thresholds at which surgeries are limited during future surge events. ICU staff was the most limited resource; staff shortages were improved by the use of tiered staffing models, just-in-time training for non-ICU clinicians, designated treatment teams, and deployment of trainees. Personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages and re-use were widespread, causing substantial distress among clinicians; hands-on PPE training was helpful to reduce clinicians’ anxiety. Transparency and involvement of frontline clinicians as stakeholders were important components of effective emergency responses and helped maintain trust among staff.
We identified several strategies to potentially mitigate strain as perceived by intensivists working in both tertiary and community hospital settings. Our study also demonstrates the importance of trust and transparency between frontline staff and hospital leadership as key components of effective emergency responses during public health crises.

Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Inc.