BTS: Bascom Palmer Eye Institute sharpens its patient focus

Lorena Lopez, 05-13-2020

Even during a pandemic, the team at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami remains steadfast in treating patients with urgent and emergency eye care. Learn how the team continues to adapt with ever-changing circumstances.
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Earlier this spring, as the threat of COVID-19 became an increasing concern throughout South Florida, the University of Miami Health System paused the majority of its elective surgeries. Many UHealth nurses, doctors, and other health care professionals shifted into new roles to help meet the most urgent demands for health care. However, as the waiting rooms for many departments were left void of patients, the team at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami remained steadfast in its original role of treating patients with urgent and emergency eye care, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Kara Cavuoto

As many eye care centers throughout South Florida closed their doors, Bascom Palmer’s emergency department became one of the only places where patients could safely receive expert medical care. 

Led by Kara Cavuoto, M.D., medical director of Bascom Palmer's emergency department and director of medical student education in ophthalmology at the Miller School of Medicine, the department has been steadily caring for patients throughout the past few months. Cavuoto oversees not only the patient care and administration of the emergency department, she also directs the ongoing medical education and training of the institute’s residents. While  educational lectures are now held virtually, Cavuoto explained that clinical teaching and learning is a primary function of her daily role. But just how does one keep the patients and residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

The answer came in the form of the 1990s Nickelodeon show, “Legends of the Hidden Temple.” “Our residents were divided into three separate teams who did not interact either at work or socially,” Cavuoto explained. The three teams—donning custom T-shirts to represent their unity—were the Green Monkeys, the Orange Iguanas, and the Purple Parrots. “In the event that one person was exposed to the virus or became ill, this would limit the number of other residents who were affected,” Cavuoto pointed out.

On May 4, UHealth announced that it had reactivated key clinical services—allowing the gradual increase of regular health care. This created new challenges for the emergency department. Kimar Estes, nurse manager of Bascom Palmer's emergency department, explained that it’s all about being able to provide the same level of care while remaining safe.

“My focus is to move forward safely, not only for our patients, but for our staff members as well,” explained Estes. “What is our new normal? How many patients can we safely treat every day? How can we continue to practice social distancing as we increase the number of patients?” 

While these are the types of questions the team is tasked with solving, the additional time they remained open had given them an advantage—the ability to troubleshoot. But just how do you care for both COVID and non-COVID patients in a safe environment? 

Cavuoto and Estes agreed that a negative air pressure system could be a solution. Commonly used in medical settings, a negative pressure system prevents airborne diseases from escaping and infecting other people by pulling air into the room and filtering it before it moves outside. Bascom Palmer’s negative air pressure room is located in the lobby area of Bascom Palmer’s Miami location. This allows the health care professionals to first identify and then to provide emergency care for COVID-19 patients, while maintaining a sterile environment throughout the facility.

While the manner of care and communication has changed, Cavuoto and Estes continue to see the best outcomes by relying on their team and each other. “Dr. Cavuoto and I already had a great relationship,” said Estes. “But now, we almost finish each other's sentences. We don’t function without the other knowing what is happening.” 

“Despite the challenges that the pandemic has brought, the camaraderie has been a source of inspiration. And I am so happy to come to work everyday and continue to take care of our patients,” remarked Cavuoto. “It has been a source of energy and excitement knowing that I am still able to do what I love.”

As part of National Hospital Week, ’Canes around the globe are uniting, from a distance, to share our gratitude and pride for the unsung heroes who rise to the occasion every day. Learn how you can celebrate the University’s frontline heroes, including Bascom Palmer Eye Institute’s emergency department.