After a relative dip this summer, COVID-19 cases are accelerating around the country and here in Indiana. Lana Dbeibo, MD, the Medical Director of Infection Prevention at IU Health Methodist Hospital, says her facility is prepared for another surge of infections.
“With the experience we’ve gained since the spring, we feel prepared,” she said. “However, flu and other respiratory viruses will be circulating this fall and winter, so that will add an additional layer of complexity.”
For Dbeibo’s Infection Prevention team, protecting health care workers is a major priority. She says that they are fine-tuning their protocols regarding testing, capacity, and vital supplies in a joint effort with system and local leadership from the Adult Academic Health Center.
“We’re always refining our guidelines as new information emerges,” she says. “We follow the science, and if the science changes, our processes change.”
While COVID-19 is new, this kind of thinking is not new to Dbeibo. Before the pandemic, her role was focused on protecting patients from hospital-acquired infections.
“It’s never made sense to me that the hospital isn’t a safe place for patients—that we have to discharge people so they don’t get infections,” she said. “That shouldn’t happen.”
Infection prevention has always been particularly appealing to her, especially when it comes to protecting the hospital’s most vulnerable patients, she said.
Originally from Lebanon, Dbeibo attended medical school at the American University of Beirut. She came to Indiana University for her internal medicine residency, and stayed to complete a fellowship in infectious diseases. Dbeibo says she was inspired to specialize in this field because of its diverse cases and because patients with infectious diseases can often be cured.
“It’s a beautiful field,” she said. “Infections are curable, and in many cases even preventable. It’s very fulfilling.”
In 2016, she joined the faculty as an assistant professor of clinical medicine and took on the role of Medical Director for Infection Prevention at Methodist. While she was always aware of the potential for a pandemic to strike, the experience of confronting one was not what she expected.
“We spend a lot of time learning about this theoretically, and preparing for it,” she said. “But when the reality hits, the feeling is very different.”
The experience was particularly surreal for Dbeibo, who was seven months pregnant in March when COVID-19 reached Indiana. In those early days of the pandemic, she and her colleagues were “up every night for several weeks” scrambling to ensure the safety of patients and providers at Methodist. (Within IU Health, her colleague, Cole Beeler, MD, was doing the same for University Hospital; at Eskenazi Health, Amy Kressel, MD, took on a similar role, as did Andrew Dysangco, MD, at the Roudebush VA.)
“To be honest, I didn’t feel the fatigue—I was energized,” said Dbeibo. “The pressure to do well, and to protect others, was very motivating.”
Still, it was a time of great stress. Dbeibo was keenly aware of the gravity of her team’s decisions. For instance, during the initial PPE shortage, many health care workers were concerned for themselves and their families. At Methodist, some expressed uncertainty and fear about whether the hospital’s PPE guidelines were adequate.
While Dbeibo knew the science supported their guidelines, she sympathized with her colleagues’ concerns.
“The Infection Prevention team at the Adult Academic Health Center spent a great deal of time working through our reasoning, listening to feedback, and discussing things that were controversial or unclear,” she said.
As she reflects on the spring COVID-19 surge and braces for another, Dbeibo has been inspired by her health care worker colleagues, who she says achieved “unprecedented” levels of selflessness and collaboration in their response to the pandemic.
“Everyone is ‘frontline’; everyone is at the core of this work,” she said, emphasizing that the emergency medicine team, the pulmonary critical care team, hospitalists, the anesthesia team, the surgery teams, specialists, outpatient clinicians, the antimicrobial stewardship team, the research team who worked on enrolling IU in clinical trials, and all the hospital nursing and nonclinical staff put their safety on the line and contributed to this effort.
Dbeibo says that she and her colleagues will continue to strive to keep patients and health care workers safe from COVID-19 until this public health crisis ends. In the meantime, she is hopeful that the overall importance of infection prevention has been made starkly clear.
“It’s been remarkable to see the attention to its effectiveness in preventing illness and disease,” she said. “There is no better way to demonstrate that than a pandemic.”
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Hannah Calkins is the communications manager for the Department of Medicine.