Portrait of Kim Horn
Kimberly Horn, who had just begun her new job as coordinator of UMMC's critical care units, is stepping up in a major way during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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People of the U: Kim Horn

Published on Wednesday, July 22, 2020

By: Kate Royals

Kimberly Horn entered her new role as administrator of the Mississippi Critical Care Organization at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in January.

After 12 years at UMMC in various nursing roles, she was starting as the new leader of a new organization overseeing and coordinating all of the Medical Center’s critical care units.

“There are about 23 or so (academic medical centers) in the country doing this, and it’s academic medical centers that have multiple ICUS, such as medical, cardiac, surgical,” said Horn. “They want to have everybody working in tandem and breaking down the silos for the different units.”

Horn had plans in mind to start the employees in the Wallace Conerly Critical Care Hospital in that direction. She was feeling her way through the new job and making plans for the near future.

But a few short weeks later, everything changed.

“I was on a weekend conference call in mid-March, and I remember listening in and thinking to myself, ‘OK, this is about to get really, really hairy,’” she recalled.

She sent a group text to all the medical directors from the critical care tower that read: “Guys, we’ve got some work to do.” What followed for the next two months was a frenzy of activity.

 “There was so much to do and so much to organize. We were thinking about everything from how to draw the labs safely in a COVID patient’s room to where are we going to get the equipment we need?” she said.

The questions continued: Do we have enough staff? Do we have enough personal protective equipment (PPE)? Do we have enough ventilators?

Horn, right, with Dr. Jeremy Rainey and Nurse Practitioner Channelle Hunter confer on the CICU.

Horn set up a makeshift office in a conference room in the critical care tower so she could be more accessible. Daily COVID-19 briefings, which over time grew to include more than 60 people, started there before moving to a bigger location to allow for social distancing.

Horn and others oversaw several major categories of duties: protocol execution; communication; research updates; training; clinical practice; treatment guidelines and staffing needs for the Medical Center’s four intensive care units. 

Dr. Hess Robertson, a professor of anesthesiology, has known Horn since she was working as the nurse manager in the surgical ICU and now works closely with her in her new role.

In this job and her former one, she has remained “a patient advocate first and foremost,” Robertson said.

“Kim is the absolute best to work with. She is supportive of her colleagues but is not afraid to speak up when she needs to do so,” he said. “She always strives to do the right thing for the patient.”

Camille Richards, executive director of University Heart, said Horn rose to the challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Her commitment to UMMC and our critical care units is evident in her actions,” she said. “She is an unsung hero!”

Richards said not only did Horn commit to helping the units she oversaw, but also kept open communication with various other departments to ensure the needs of all patients, regardless of their COVID-19 status, were met.

After a few months into her new job during the pandemic, Horn realizes now the critical care employees have made a fantastic start in breaking down barriers and working together more cohesively. COVID-19 forced the real issues to the surface and the rest fell away, she explained.

“It’s been very rewarding in that respect because the silos are gone. I don’t know that it would’ve happened this fast without the pandemic,” said Horn.

True to her optimistic nature, she said the sink-or-swim start to the new job has been valuable.

“When all of this is over, I have a list of lessons learned,” she said. “There are good things that have come out of it, and the relationships with the people in the tower are better than they’ve ever been.”

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