Petrakis manages the supply donation stream for four acute care hospitals. She sat down with Harris Public Policy to share her experience working during the coronavirus pandemic.
A headshot of Caitlin Petrakis
Caitlin Petrakis, MPP'19

At the beginning of this year, Caitlin Petrakis, MPP’19,  was halfway through her administrative health fellowship at Main Line Health, a not-for-profit health system serving portions of Philadelphia and Petrakis’s hometown in the city’s western suburbs. She had just finished supporting a successful, multi-million dollar expansion project, Main Line Health’s Women’s Specialty Center when, in January, the system’s infectious disease experts sounded the alarm about the impending stateside arrival of the novel coronavirus.

Petrakis never expected to find herself on the frontlines of a global pandemic, but nevertheless, her fellowship quickly became a crash course in project and operations management during an unprecedented crisis. 

She spoke with Harris Public Policy about how the coronavirus has impacted her day-to-day work life, what it’s like managing the donations supply chain for all four of Main Line’s acute care hospitals, and how now, more than ever, she’s committed to supporting policies that invest in people's health.

How has your role with Main Line Health changed in response to the coronavirus pandemic? Can you share a little bit about your role in the health system’s command center? How have you managed to adjust to what you walked into on day one versus what your day to day looks like now?

My administrative fellowship started out like all others do. At Main Line, they treat the administrative fellowship the same way they would treat a cardiology fellowship, or something similar, but you're doing the business side of healthcare. I would shadow the managers of service lines, the VP’s of administration and other business units folks across all four of our acute care hospitals. I worked on different projects for them, mostly related to performance optimization and strategic development to expand services. Since I am a fellow, I have a fair amount of autonomy, and a lot of exposure to leadership, but in these projects, I'm really like a project manager and support person. 

Starting in early January, our infectious disease experts started to say of the coronavirus, "This is coming. We need to start preparing for this.” We were watching the situation incredibly closely, and starting to consider the impact on our staff and supply chain.

Leadership started talking about how we could accommodate a potential surge across all four of our acute care hospitals. We were dealing with a lot of uncertainty and I wanted to support our efforts in any way I could. We began to stand up teams to work exclusively on all major areas of concern, including staffing levels, securing supplies, putting together predictive models to project hospitalization rates, and much more. Since I spent months getting to know our leadership and executives, along with the ins and outs of each of our facilities, I had the opportunity to join the teams in our incident command center.  

What did that process look like, as far as setting the command centers up and getting them functional in time?

We set up four different command centers at each of our four acute hospitals and I started spending a lot of time in one of them. I started sitting in on meetings with the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania, where they were creating the regulatory and policy changes necessary to make things easier for us in terms of what we needed to record on the patient records, what we needed to be recording in EPIC (our electronic health record), and expanding virtual visits with primary care physicians.

I started working in one of the hospital’s command centers, and then I was invited to participate at the system’s overarching command center, and that's been an awesome experience. I'm right there as things are coming in and as we're getting over challenges en masse. It has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone in terms of working on the variety of issues and questions that come up, but it has been an invaluable learning experience.

What have been some of the most fulfilling aspects of this new experience? 

I set up the whole supply donation stream. We kept getting calls from people willing to help us, but we had no process in place. I set that up across the whole system, which has been really exciting. At this point, I've helped source over 80,000 units of supplies that we need. 

What kind of supplies?

Masks, everything from N95 masks to surgical masks, even cloth and cotton masks for non-clinical settings. Tyvek coveralls, surgical isolation gowns, gloves — all types of personal protective equipment. 

There are a couple of universities and private schools around here that have fabrication labs. I've been working with infection prevention folks to approve their face shields. We actually have a few schools nearby that are already manufacturing dozens of face shields a day for us, which is awesome. The support we have received from our community has truly made all of the difference for us.

And you're managing the flow of all that?

The whole flow, yes – everything from getting approval from infection prevention to coordinating with local groups who are sewing masks or making the face shields, to actually dealing with larger companies around us who have these supplies or who are ordering massive amounts – 2,000 units at a time, 5,000 units at a time – to then be delivered to our loading docks. I learned a lot about supply chain management in a way that I never thought I would have.

You are very passionate about healthcare and the policies surrounding healthcare. These are unprecedented times, but generally with regards to healthcare policy, has that always been a passion area for you?

My whole desire to go to Harris and change up my career path to work in health administration has been grounded in, "You don't have anything if you don't have your health." Everybody deserves the right to be healthy, to have access to healthcare, and to be able to live in a healthy way. If we don't ensure that everyone has access to healthcare, a primary care doctor, and the right information on their health then we don’t have anything. I think this pandemic has shown a lot of people that your health is something that really matters, and the health of your neighbor really matters too. As policy and healthcare leaders, we need to think about that every day in our work, and I think this pandemic will echo throughout the next few years in health policy development. I think, ironically this has brought people together in a very unprecedented way – I see that at work, in my family, and in my community. It’s one of the biggest displays of how we must come together that I think I’ll ever see in my lifetime.