by Mary Wilson
Hospitals across the country are prepared for a pandemic. They train for this. They have emergency preparedness plans in place. They are ready for mass shootings, weather events, or anything else that may cause a surge in patients. St. Joseph Medical Center in South Kansas City was ready for COVID-19 well before the first patients started coming through their doors.
“We feel very prepared,” said St. Joseph Medical Center CEO Jodi Fincher. “However, there is no way to prepare for every variant contingency that can come forward. To have this start in China, and have the supply chain cut off from there, we were already behind the 8-ball. We are now being forced to be very judicious. There are unpredictable variables that happen in times like this.”
St. Joseph Medical Center, like every hospital, is open and ready to treat patients, whatever their healthcare needs are during the COVID-19 pandemic. For patient safety, hospitals are asking that elective procedures wait until after the threat of coronavirus passes. In the meantime, however, if patients must visit the hospital, Fincher says that things might look a little bit different upon arrival.
“What we are encouraging the public to do is if they have symptoms of COVID, if they are short of breath, have a fever or coughing, we are asking them to reach out to their primary care doctor,” said Fincher. “Of course, we always tell people if they need to call 911, then call 911. But if they can, they need to reach out to their primary care doctor.”
A lot of those primary care physicians are doing telemedicine visits to help diminish the spread of COVID-19. These telemedicine visits will provide a way for people to avoid getting out of their homes and going into the hospital for their first healthcare touch, according to Fincher.
“Providers are able to triage them through a telephone call or a telehealth visit, and they can help those patients decide what their next step needs to be,” said Fincher. “Many of these things can be managed by a telehealth visit. However, if it is determined that they need to come to the hospital, the doctor send them on to the emergency room. We are trying to keep these kinds of patients out of our clinics, if possible.”
She added that if a doctor determines a patient is sick enough to go to the emergency department of a hospital, then chances are likely that they are sick enough to be admitted, whether they have COVID-19. This helps limit the amount of exposure that hospitals would have otherwise if a patient might test positive for the virus.
Upon arrival to the hospital, Fincher said that patients will not be allowed to bring visitors inside with them unless there is a mobility or communication limitation. They are asking that visitors wait inside their cars to avoid a large amount of people in the hospital’s waiting rooms. Fincher said that this procedure for visitors is standard throughout the country right now as healthcare workers try to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
“They can expect that they’ll be screened immediately when they come in the door,” said Fincher. “Their temperature will be taken and there will be staff with masks on. Then, depending on their symptoms, they’ll be moved into the emergency room. We do have lots of patients who are coming in without COVID symptoms. If someone comes in because they are having chest pains, they’ll go through that same process. They’ll get quickly screened and moved into the emergency department and they’ll be taken care of normally.”
With the limitation of people in the hospital at this time, Fincher said that St. Joseph Medical Center has not yet seen a real surge of patients coming in. She said that right now she has plenty of staff on hand. The concern is, however, how the hospital will continue to manage the COVID-19 patients on a day-to-day basis. Those patients who either test positive for the virus or potentially have COVID-19 are separated and put into a secluded, dedicated unit.
“Because we’re not allowing any visitors into the hospital, it feels a little empty right now,” said Fincher. “We don’t have our volunteers in our hospital either, for their safety. So, it’s pretty quiet right now in the hospital.”
The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) heightens the fears at St. Joseph Medical Center, according to Fincher. They are taking stock of their supplies daily, and she said that all hospitals are working to manage their own PPE, knowing that every day poses a potential threat to their supply reserves.
“In healthcare, we are used to having standard processes, and if we do things the same way every single time, that is the safest way to do things,” said Fincher. “We are asking staff to change those processes, sometimes day to day, and it’s hard to keep up and can be very frustrating. With this constant threat of whether there will be enough PPE, it keeps everyone very concerned.”
As fearful and concerned as her staff is, Fincher said that they are working to not let that affect the care of the patients that they see. Regardless of diagnosis, she said, her staff is continuing to take great care of their patients.
St. Joseph Medical Center, like other hospitals in the area, is feeling the love of the community that surrounds them. While working hard to meet the needs of South Kansas City, Fincher wanted to assure the public that right now, healthcare workers at the hospital and clinics have the gear they need to protect themselves and others as they care for patients with COVID-19. However, she understands that this could change at any time as cases continue to increase.
“Many in the community have asked how they can assist us during this time,” said Fincher. “We cannot tell you how much we appreciate you thinking of our providers and staff who are working every day to help keep us all healthy.”
Because hospitals are part of a highly-regulated environment and must maintain strict supply chain control for sterile medical supplies and devices, St. Joseph Medical Center has established the following guidelines for donations: bulk donations of medical equipment/supplies such as personal protective equipment including N-95 masks, surgical gowns, gloves, etc. (including “extended use” equipment/supplies such as non-surgical face masks) will be accepted, so long as the supplies are new, unused, and in unopened manufacturer packaging.
“If we can’t prove that that piece of personal protective equipment would be safe for our patients, then we just can’t use it,” said Fincher. “But we certainly appreciate the generosity. We’ve been overwhelmed with the community, and they’ve been recognizing the stress and tension that healthcare is under right now.”
The hospital cannot accept donations of supplies that have been opened or separated from their original bulk packaging, as those cannot be introduced into sterile patient care areas. Fincher also requests that the public not bring donations of household items, personal medications, and other commodities to the hospital campus, as accounting for the receipt of the same; and even simply storing such items diverts resources that are otherwise needed for direct patient care or support.
“These are definitely interesting and unprecedented times, but we’re going to make it through,” said Fincher. “We’re going to remember it, that’s for darn sure.”
For questions regarding donations, contact Kim Chalmers, Supervisor of Senior Care Services at St. Joseph Medical Center, at 816-943-4543, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.