Catholic Health World | Pandemic Exigencies Speed Development of Technologies, Products


When it became clear in early 2020 that the coronavirus could slam into the nation’s health care system with the force of a tsunami, executives and staff at the La Palma, California-based Innovation Institute and at its affiliated Newport Beach, California, Innovation Lab assembled on a weekend videoconference to brainstorm about how the institute could use its expertise to help health care providers.

From left, Matthew Ibarra, Dr. Afshin Nadershahi and Ryan Kelly are shown during filming of training videos on the BayWin valve. The May 2020 filming was at Orange Coast College in Southern California. Ibarra is a design manager at the Innovation Lab; Nadershahi was executive director of clinical and market intelligence at the time; and Kelly is the lab’s general manager.

The group tossed out thoughts about how to significantly speed up or adapt the development of technologies, products and ideas in the lab’s pipeline that would be of most benefit to patients and clinicians during the pandemic. One product the team fast-tracked — a closed-circuit valve for use in the care of patients on ventilators — had been in development for decades and had been in a refinement process in the Innovation Lab since 2019.

Clinicians use ports in the valve to add equipment such as resuscitation bags or suction catheter systems and are able to do so without temporarily disconnecting the ventilator.

The Innovation Lab put the product development process in high gear. Within seven weeks, it had a finished product and had shipped almost 5,000 of the valves out to some of its member hospitals. Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, Avera Health, Bon Secours Mercy Health and Providence St. Joseph Health’s Covenant Health used the valve and their clinicians provided the lab with feedback about the product’s efficacy.

This image from a demonstration video shows the BayWin Closed Circuit Valve in use during manual ventilation. The Innovation Lab helped to refine the valve and made it available to hospitals during the pandemic.

Through their involvement in the Innovation Lab as well as through independent efforts, these Catholic health systems and facilities have proven to be fertile ground for invention during the pandemic. (The Innovation Institute was spun off from St. Joseph Health, a legacy system of Providence, in 2013.)

“When it’s routine business, everyone sticks to a routine, but when COVID hit, that routine was disrupted, and everyone’s eyes were opened to being innovative,” says Dr. Hollis O’Neal, a pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist at Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. He used the valve and gave input while it was being refined.

Care handoff
Dr. Michelle Thai is medical director for a rehabilitation program at Providence St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California. About five years ago, frustrated by how difficult it was for her and other staff to locate high-quality nursing homes for patients being discharged, she began working with her son Johnathan Thai, a computer science graduate, on a solution. The duo developed Koazie, a digital platform where health care staff, patients and patients’ families can search local nursing homes to see which have open beds, which have the highest quality ratings and which have the features the patient is looking for. Thai worked with the Innovation Lab to refine the product and began rolling it out on a limited basis about two years ago. It pulls in publicly available information such as nursing homes’ contact information and Medicare quality ratings. Nursing homes can pay a subscription that enables them to add additional information, such as marketing language and facility photos.

Thai says during the surge in COVID-19 in Southern California it was extremely challenging to figure out which nursing homes were admitting patients and what their admission policies were, given evolving COVID-19 protocols.

The Thais and Innovation Lab staff assigned to Koazie contacted nursing homes to ask them to add bed availability information and COVID-19 policy details to their Koazie profiles. A COVID-19 education section was added to the Koazie site for patients and families to counter confusion and misinformation that have been rampant. More…