Hospitals, employees adjust to pandemic

Thursday, June 18, 2020

By Haley Schichtl

For people working on the frontline during a pandemic, there are a lot of adjustments to be made, especially for hospitals and their employees.

Eureka Springs Hospital representative Darrell Parke said the public is only allowed into the hospital on certain circumstances.

"We still require everyone who enters the hospital to be tested," Parke said. "They answer questions, have their temperature taken, and that determines whether they're allowed in."

The questions include whether the person has recently traveled out of state or been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

"Our specialty clinics are now open again, but we moved them into the house across the street," Parke said. "We ask that you wear a mask when you come in."

He said people who come to the hospital with symptoms like fever, gastric issues, coughs and chest pains are immediately put into an isolation room and tested.

"If someone is experiencing symptoms, especially if they fit in the categories of immuno-suppressed systems, go [to the hospital] immediately," Parke said. "The quicker it can be identified, the quicker it can be treated. You don't want it to linger in the system because it grows stronger in a way."

ESH is making sure to do everything it can to stay up-to-date on protocols to keep people safe.

"The CDC changes their minds every other day," lab director Tina Adams said. "I've had to do more addendums to our policy and procedure than I have ever done in my career."

Adams said it's been tough for staff at the hospital having to constantly adjust, but they have learned a lot.

"You have to wear a head-to-toe garment if you have a patient that comes in that is possible COVID, and N95 masks," Adams said.

Parke said at the beginning of the crisis, hospital staff had daily meetings about COVID-19.

"We brought the mayor in and EMS services," Parke said. "We started this communication regimen, and have a weekly call to look at policy and procedure change and look at what we need to do to continue to battle this disease."

Radiology director Amy Grant described the experience as "different."

"It's not just your standard precautions anymore," Grant said. "You're full-on suiting up and then you can't go back in the room for two hours after we do a CAT scan, then it's got to be cleaned from ceiling to floor. It's challenging sometimes, but we're glad to be here."

In addition to policy changes, the hospital has also gotten new equipment for the crisis.

The Abbott ID Now is a small machine that tests quickly for COVID-19. If the machine tests positive, it is guaranteed the person being tested has the disease, but if it tests negative, there is still a 50 percent chance the person could have COVID-19.

"Just a few months ago, that was the state of the art. Abbott couldn't keep up with the demand. They were shipping to hot spots, and they didn't consider any part of Arkansas a hot spot. So we had to politic," Parke said. "Eureka is a tiny town, but we're also a tourist community. It could be a hot spot easily."

Parke said the hospital successfully got the ID Now, and now an even better tester, Cepheid GeneXpert, will also come in soon.

"That one is a 98 to 99 percent guarantee, whether they're one way or the other," Parke said. "What we will do is if [ID Now] came back negative, we'll put it in the next machine to process it."

Parke said the hospital has also purchased new equipment recently that is not for COVID-19 patients so that patients can be treated in-house rather than transported for something minor during and after the pandemic.

"We are revamping the entire radiology department. We put in all Canon equipment," Grant said. "It's all top-of-the-line."

One new machine the hospital is proud of is its 80-slice CT scanner.

"It's a 640-pound table limit with a 78-centimeter hole. It's the only bariatric scanner within a 50-mile radius," Grant said. "This thing is fast and the things we can do with it are phenomenal."

Parke said the community has been very supportive of the hospital staff, by bringing in masks, food and thank you letters.

"We lost about 70 percent of our volume in the last few months. That's a big hit for a hospital," Parke said. "But it also taught us that we can be very successful and still operate a staff during trying times. The staff have responded very well.

"We've created relationships with Northwest Health, so... automatic transfers can happen to make sure that there's not a lag time from getting from here to there," Parke continued. "We increased our respiratory care department; we brought in two new respiratory therapists to help with the breathing side of disease."

Parke said people should remember that the pandemic is not over, and to keep on being cautious.

Helen Luney, emergency room manager at Mercy hospital in Berryville, said working at a hospital during a pandemic means having to be very careful.

"You have a whole slew of different things to think about," Luney said. "You have to think about our own safety and the patients' safety."

Luney said the hospital staff isn't afraid of the disease, but is being cautious.

"We're doing what we need to be doing, taking care of ourselves, hand washing, using PPE," Luney said.

Luney said Mercy has four isolation rooms for possible COVID patients.

"The screeners let us know when they're meeting the symptoms. We have an area where we put them and then we lead them from that area into our isolation room," Luney said. "If you're having any shortness of breath, that's probably the biggest one. Call a provider and let them know. You can be tested through your regular physician. If you have severe symptoms, come into the ER.

"We don't have any rapid testing at this facility," Luney continued. "We're not a testing site, so the only patients that are tested are the ones that come in with symptoms."

Luney said the Berryville community has shown support for the hospital staff by donating PPE and masks.

Medical-surgical nursing manager Teresa Cornelisse said the biggest new process has been wearing the PPE.

"At first, there was a lot of questions, but now that we're three months into it, we're just dealing with it each day as we go," Cornelisse said. "I haven't had any issues with the staff being overwhelmed."

She said at the beginning of the crisis, the emergency management team created a plan in case there is an increase in patients.

"Thankfully, we haven't had to go to that," Cornelisse said. "We're a small hospital and we work all together as one unit. Most of our staff are from this community, so the mindset is that we're going to take care of our own."

She said the staff is being cautious and feels prepared to work extra shifts if they need to do so to help the community.

"Our organization has been excellent at keeping us informed on what's going on in our community," Cornelisse said. "We have huddles every day. All our huddles start off with a devotion prayer or scripture."

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