Interview to the Covid Warrior Michele F. Lo Presti

Michele Fabrizio Lo Presti
Head of Facility Management of ASP Syracuse

I am the head of the U.O.S. Facility Management of the Syracuse ASP, an office that, among other tasks, takes care of the entire logistics of the Syracuse public hospitals.
In March, after being appointed as a member of the Crisis Management Unit of the Syracuse ASP, I had direct knowledge of the confusion and unpreparedness that overwhelmed the world, as we knew it, at the first impact with the pandemic.

All of us who work in the health sector have had direct experience of the chaos generated by the emergency and the difficulty of adapting the bureaucratic machine of the P.A. to the necessary life-saving timeliness of decisions to be taken to resolve, in a rapid manner, problems that had never before been imagined.

After the beginning od the emergency, soon, the Superintendency, hospital pharmacies and territorial pharmacies declared forfeit. 
In fact, all of the usual suppliers of the Syracuse ASP were unable to find and supply PPE (personal protective equipment) in the quantities and with the timing required.

Our doctors and nurses began to complain about the lack of masks, overalls, shoe covers, gloves, etc…

This criticality involved me directly. It was in fact my task to manage ambulance transports throughout the province. Including the transport of Covid patients, organized with an ambulance, specially sealed for the occasion. 
To do this, however, it was necessary first of all to make the drivers of the vehicles safe, providing them with the necessary PPE.

Masks, gloves, overalls. How to put ambulances on the road without the minimum safety equipment?
I cannot and will never forget the wall of denials to my requests.

Resources were limited; they were destined exclusively for medical and paramedical personnel. They were in the wards, in close contact with the new virus. So I had to invent, beating lonely and alternative paths. The motto of my office is “give us a critical issue and we will turn it into a resource“.

So I gave everyone a list of addresses in all the municipalities of the province of hardware stores, livestock products, construction, as well as farms, pest control companies and the like. 
That’s how we found everything! But even more.
Without almost realizing it, we found ourselves supplying the entire province, five hospitals and five territorial pharmacies, which in turn limited the distribution of material in the area.

Hundreds of phone calls came in every day. Departments of infectious diseases, resuscitation, covid centers, emergency rooms, all asking for a few more suits, a few FFP2 masks.

The Civil Defence Department (Protezione Civile), in spite of itself, was unable to offer adequate support in terms of quality and quantity of PPE offered. It is an indelible memory in the memory of all of us.
In this desolate situation, the activities of the UOS Facility Management ASP Syracuse managed to support everyone, including the 118, with extreme sacrifice and expenditure of energy. 

We worked 12 to 15 hours a day, for 64 days continuously, (without Saturdays, Sundays, Easter, Easter Monday, April 25 and May 1), going home only to rest for a few hours.

Every day was new. Like a huge jigsaw puzzle, always moving, we moved resources from one hospital to another, always trying to balance resources. 
Never a break. The PPE emergency was soon joined by a shortage of tampons. 
Finding them, transporting them quickly, retrieving those that had been done and delivering them for processing. It was another frenzy within a frenzy.  Together with my collaborators, they seemed like hamsters in a thousand wheels. Daily trips to Catania, Messina and Palermo engaged more and more the meager human resources available. The same driver arrived to make 3 or 4 trips a day between Syracuse, Catania and Messina, while others, “fresher”, left in the afternoon in the direction of Palermo, so as to return to Syracuse only late at night. Without rest.

I will never forget the dramatic phone call, one Friday afternoon, from the Umberto I Hospital in Syracuse. Of all the departments, there were less than 40 suits left (infectious diseases, resuscitation and emergency room). Without new supplies, in 12 hours the personal protective equipment would have been exhausted.

After dozens and dozens of phone calls, I managed to find a small store in the province of Messina, lost in the mountains, which, having closed in February, still had goods in stock: a few thousand suits. All my collaborators were out. That’s how I left the office to leave in person, in the last van, under a massive downpour, together with my most trusted driver. 
We finally managed to retrieve those suits and masks!
Had we not succeeded, that evening the Umberto I hospital would have experienced an unresolvable operational criticality. 

This is the story of the work of a handful of middle-aged men, no longer very young; a few dozen people who, without batting an eyelid, with extreme humility and a sense of sacrifice, tackled tasks, activities and jobs that were often outside their job description, working hours, tasks and workloads that an employee is called upon to do. On the front lines, carrying sick positives and infected swabs. 
I have no qualms in relating that all of this was experienced with fear. For themselves, for their families. 

My most beautiful memory? No one took a step back, no one marked visit a single day. 
I would simply repeat: if we stop, who will take our place?
I was surprised every morning to see all my co-workers present. Every evening we would repeat, “we did it again today“.

One step after another, one mask, one suit and one swab after another, eventually the tension eased, the curve of contagion bent more than our backs did, and one fine day my friend Antonella (Dr. Franco, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Umberto I Hospital) called me with emotion… We had won. A few days later the province of Syracuse was declared “zero infection”, the first in Sicily.

It was the only ASP in eastern Sicily not to suffer even a “functional block”, that is, not to have suffered an ambulance or a ward stopped for lack of PPE.

Another indelible memory was the dichotomy between those who locked themselves in their homes, legitimately afraid, and those who spent themselves without reserve. 
During the spasmodic search for PPE for the ASP, among many others, I will forever remember a phone call.  
After a few seconds of pause, a store owner agreed to supply us with everything he had in stock. Without a registered request, without knowing me, without any guarantee about the payment of more than 17.000 euro of goods. Simply “on the word”. That man I thank him still today, on behalf of all, with all my heart.

A regret?
There remains the memory of that mud machine with which certain “keyboard lions” have tried to make days of unforgettable chaos and tension even darker.

But it’s a temporary regret, swept away by the sense of pride, respect and gratitude matured together with all the colleagues of the ASP of Syracuse with whom we fought the greatest battle. For the good of all.

To them I dedicate my most heartfelt thanks. 

  • From Syracuse ASP Press Office:
    “We are grateful to the organizers for this prestigious recognition – said the administrative director of the Asp of Syracuse Salvatore Iacolino present at the meeting – which gives luster to the Company and its work. An award destined to Fabrizio Lo Presti and through him to all the Facility Management operators and to all those who have spent and are still spending their time in the management of the pandemic”. 
  • The ceremony was also attended by the Director of the Medical Area Department – Salvo Italia, the Director of General Affairs – Lavinia Lo Curzio and a representation of the Facility Management team, Enzo Nobile and Gaetano Maniscalco for the drivers, Piero Lo Bianco for the ambulance workers, Enzo Ruiz for the administrative staff”.
    – “It is an award, for which we sincerely thank the organization of the VISVAMITRA INTERNATIONAL AWARDS – directed by Yoga Vidya Onlus -, underlines the Direction – that recognizes the excellent commitment that this Company, without looking for clamor, is putting in the field also in the delicate organization of all aspects related to logistics. A praise to the whole Asp Siracusa team from the company management”.
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