Miami Valley’s hospitals are preparing for an influx of COVID-19 patients. As WYSO’s Jason Saul reports, those hospitals have been training for an outbreak of an infectious disease like this one.
A healthcare facility, like an urgent care center or a hospital, isn’t a place you go when you’re feeling okay. They’re full of people who are already sick. And people with other underlying health conditions are more at risk if they get this new disease.
So how does a hospital prepare for a potentially huge influx of new, infectious patients? With a lot of technology and preparation.
Kettering Health Network has a 70,000-foot, mission-control-like command center, where they are tracking every patient in their system in real time. And Premier Healthcare is trying to reach people with the latest information before they ever get to the hospital. And all the hospitals say they are are drilling their teams, getting ready for a possible flood of patients to come.
"We have to be preparing our isolation process for how we receive patients. We have to make sure we do an adequate triage. We make sure that our staff is educated on how to use the protective equipment to stay safe, but also keep our patients safe," says Dr. Roberto Colon, the Associate Chief Medical Officer of Miami Valley Hospital and Premier Healthcare’s Vice President for Quality and Safety.
Elizabeth Long is a spokeswoman for Kettering Health. She says Kettering has been preparing for just this kind of situation. She says they train on infectious disease topics all the time. But this is a novel coronavirus, she says.
"Because it’s so new, we’re still learning," she says.
If you start to feel like you’re coming down with the flu, Dr. Colon says that if you’re healthy overall, and if your symptoms are pretty mild, the best thing to do is to stay away from other people and just to ride the sickness out at home.
"For people who are having mild symptoms, very often you’re able to manage fluids, take some medications for pain if you’re having aches or to keep the fever down. Similar to what we would do in cold or flu season," he says. "Oftentimes we are recommending that they check with their primary care provider first to get some guidance."
"What we do urge is for people to call ahead and don’t, like, walk into a hospital or an urgent care," says Elizabeth Long, from Kettering.
"Of course, we encourage people who are feeling very sick, yes, you do need to get medical care. But if you have symptoms of COVID-19, which would be a high fever, coughing and difficulty breathing, call ahead. Call your doctor or call a hospital, call an urgent care, but let them know ahead of time so they can make plans to keep you isolated as you enter the facility," she says. "Because the risk is that, if someone walks in off the street and they have these symptoms, they risk infecting other people."
Hospitals are preparing for more cases. They’re setting up separate entrances for possible COVID arrivals, isolating patients in negative pressure rooms — those keep air moving in to the room to help prevent germs from getting out — and are rethinking how they physically move patients through the buildings.
What’s worrying healthcare administrators more right now is the outbreak’s effect on their employees.
"With the most recent declaration from the governor about schools closing, there is going to be a significant impact that has to be adjusted for with regard to a lot of our nurses, physicians and staff, with how they’re going to be managing all those childcare needs," Colon says.
Beginning Monday, hospitals in the Greater Dayton area are now enacting tougher visitor restrictions, to cut down on the number of people coming through their doors.