A Converstation With... Daniel Parks, MD
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Daniel Parks, MD, an Urgent Care physician with Augusta Medical Group, coordinated the organization of the Waynesboro Assessment Center. The purpose of the Assessment Center was to assess, test, treat and educate those with respiratory symptoms in a safe and separate environment. Dr. Parks received his medical education through the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, so "paid for my education in time, not dollars" as he served the nation as a military physician. He was selected to serve as one of the White House physicians from 2001 to 2009 and then served at the Pentagon with the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff.
With a career that required and refined his skills in contingency planning and responding to scenarios, Dr. Dan Parks had the perfect background to implement Augusta Health's COVID-19 Assessment Center in March of 2020.
"My experience in contingency planning was very handy when we set up the Assessment Center," says Dr. Parks. "Everything was a 'what if' and there were lots of questions: When will we have our first COVID-19 positive patients? How many will there be? How sick will they be? How can we care for the COVID-19 patients while keeping the non-COVID patients safe, too? What if volumes go up? What if they go down? They were the questions we needed to ask to plan a major operation like the Assessment Center, but the difference this time was no one knew the answers. And everyone—everyone in the world—was learning as the situation unfolded."
"Because our focus was on keeping the community, patients and staff safe while caring for those with COVID-19, we knew we needed to separate the testing and treatment of patients with respiratory symptoms into an isolated location," adds Dr. Parks. "The Waynesboro Urgent Care, with good access and ample room to expand if needed, was an ideal selection. Then, it was a significant effort to convert the facility to negative pressure for COVID-19 patients, and to equip it and train the staff. Our entire staff—from doctors, nurses and front desk staff to the maintenance and environmental services techs—was incredibly responsive and invested in the community."
"Those working at the Assessment Center developed into a very cohesive team. They became experts in testing and treating a new disease in an uncertain environment. There were many unknowns, and every day was a risk. They put their faith and trust in each other and in Augusta Health, and kept their focus on keeping everyone—including each other—safe. It was humbling to work with them."
There were definite challenges, especially at the beginning. For example, testing kits were in very short supply. Each COVID-19 test had to be cleared with the Department of Health before it could be performed. Eventually, test kit supply increased, but so did the number of patients requiring tests. At one point, more than 200 patients a day were being tested for COVID-19 at the Waynesboro Assessment Center. "Another feature of the Waynesboro site was that it allowed us the ability to scale up as needed. We could expand into the Primary Care area, and then into the garage area as we needed more space."
The Waynesboro Assessment Center operated for 445 days before it converted back to the Waynesboro Urgent Care on June 8, 2021.
"Transitioning back to an Urgent Care has its challenges, but it's worked and going well," says Dr. Parks. "The biggest challenge is that COVID-19 is still here, and it will continue to be present in the future. Our Urgent Care staff, like everyone, has to adjust to a new normal that incorporates COVID-19 into every day life. We've adjusted operating procedures, equipment and staff so we have COVID-19 testing—as well as standard Urgent Care functions—at all three locations in Waynesboro, Staunton and Stuarts Draft. The vaccines are here and effective, and there are treatments on the horizon."
In reflecting on the intense experience of the past 15 months, Dr. Parks believes the response was successful because everyone at Augusta Health, starting with the Board and Administration through all levels of staff, remained flexible, responsive to changing information and reacted quickly to adapt.
"It was a time of rolling and adapting, of scaling up and scaling down, of developing new responses to each bit of new information. I give a huge shout out to the entire staff, but especially to those in the Emergency Department, the Intensive Care Unit, the Urgent Cares and the Assessment Center who never closed. The teamwork of the entire Augusta Health staff in facing an unknown challenge with open minds and open hearts, for the good of their patients and the community, was extraordinary. We were all proud to be a part of it."