Chief Medical Officer Markku Mäkijärvi has been in charge of medical preparedness and operations at HUS during the coronavirus pandemic. This is his review of what HUS did during the first and second waves.

“We had already been alerted to the threat of a coronavirus pandemic by the time the first coronavirus infection in our area was diagnosed on February 26, 2020. That is when our work really began. In the following few days, we set up our Pandemic Coordination Group, which met on a daily basis to update the situational picture and to make the decisions needed. Initially, the situational picture was literally drawn by hand, until we managed to create an automated process in our IT systems. Fortunately, we were already well versed in using Teams, and we have been meeting via Teams almost since the start.

Our material preparedness was supposed to be good, but our estimates of the quantity of PPE needed, which were based on the previous influenza pandemic, proved to be too low. Preparedness measures picked up speed in early March, as we received troubling news of intensive care beds in Italy and Switzerland filling up with coronavirus patients.

The pressure was fierce during the first wave. We knew next to nothing about the disease at that time, and we still do not know everything we would need to know. There were many emotions involved: fear, anxiety, worry, uncertainty, and so on. There was a huge need for communications, both externally and internally. Our intake of patients accelerated, but we managed to get everyone a bed in time.

The second wave was slower and shallower than the first. We were not forced to curtail our normal activities in the autumn as had been the case during the first wave in the spring. It was the duration of the second wave that proved problematic. Restrictions have had to be extended, and our endurance has been tested.

Our major challenges in spring 2020 were the great need for communications and ensuring the sufficiency of PPE. In the autumn, by contrast, the substantially reduced availability of care posed a major challenge. Patients had to wait too long for non-urgent treatments. Also, the prolonged duration of the exceptional circumstances and the resilience thereby demanded emerged as another major challenge.

In the end, however, we were quite successful in efficiently managing a large organization in a crisis situation. We were even able to complete the deployment of a new patient information system despite the coronavirus pandemic. We also performed adequately well in our principal task: caring for patients.

My management is based on openness, transparency and trust. Doing and leading things in standardized and predictable ways are of core importance for successful crisis management.”