Coordinating the medical response to the Coronavirus – insights from Switzerland
Urban life 13 April 2020 Rico Maritz
Rico Maritz, Market Director for Hospital Logistics in Switzerland, shares insights and lessons learned from Switzerland, where he has been part of the team coordinating the country’s medical response to the Coronavirus.
The Office of the Coordinated Medical Services is a permanent national network that plans and coordinates all available medical resources in Switzerland on a federal level (civilian-military cooperation), in the event of war or in disaster and crisis response situations. The outbreak of the Coronavirus means that the office now is the central hub for coordinating medical services between Switzerland’s 26 cantons.
This is where Rico Maritz, Market Director for Ramboll’s division for Hospital Logistics in Switzerland, has spent his days since 16 March, in the role of Deputy to the Chief of Staff.
The office makes quick decisions on the allocation of medical resources, based on daily briefings on the development of the virus and how local health services are coping. On a normal day, five people work in the office, but since the Corona outbreak they have been joined by Rico Maritz and 20 other executives, all with a military background. They assist with the attribution of healthcare staff, pharmaceutical supplies and medical equipment throughout the country.
Prior to joining Ramboll, Rico Maritz was COO at the University Hospital in Basel before becoming Director General at the Burghers’ Hospital in Solothurn. He is also colonel in the Swiss Army reserves. All this experience is why he has been called upon to help organize the country’s healthcare services.
The Swiss approach to handling the COVID-19 crisis
The federal government has used similar measure to many other countries to contain the spread of the virus. Gradually, normal life in the country has changed, as restaurants and schools have been closed, social distancing measures implemented and isolation measures for older and vulnerable citizens have been installed.
Under normal circumstances, the cantons would be responsible for the implementation of rules and regulations. However, in this time of crises, Switzerland has chosen to call upon the army medics and the army reserves to support the healthcare system in managing the influx of patients.
All army medics hold a certificate to perform tasks in basic medical care at a hospital. They are now complementing staff at the hospitals in order to cope with the pressure on the system. Besides personnel, the military has its own pharmacy and medical equipment, including respirators, which are of crucial importance now.
Rico Maritz explains: “Normally, the military medical reserves are for members of the armed forces only. But now there is no differentiation. We allocate staff, equipment and pharmaceuticals to the cantons and aim to balance the supply and demand. Currently they are struggling in the canton of Ticino, which is close to Italy, so that’s where the reserves are being deployed first”.
Challenging conventions and giving new mandates
One of the most crucial challenges in Switzerland has been to find additional beds appropriate for the Intensive Care Units (ICU).
“Corona is challenging a lot of conventions. To be given artificial respiration, for example, a Covid-19 patient needs to be treated while lying on his belly and only a special kind of bed will do for this purpose”, Rico Maritz explains.
In order to solve such challenges efficiently, the Coordinated Medical Services have the authority to identify any suitable person in Switzerland and mandate them to solve the task, regardless of their normal job situation.
The team narrowed down the candidate pool quickly and within 8 hours a project manager was working on mitigating the bed situation. This approach to handle the crisis makes it possible to do something that would normally take weeks in minutes instead.
Rico Maritz estimates that Switzerland is a couple of weeks behind Italy when it comes to the spread of the virus. He doesn’t know how long the Swiss government will require his collaboration, but he is proud to serve his country for as long as needed.
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