SGCMH readies for possible coronavirus outbreak
Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital (SGCMH) is taking a prepare for the worst, hope for the best approach to a possible surge in coronavirus patients. Patient testing for the disease has been in progress the past two weeks and as of this writing (3/30/20), two cases have been confirmed in Ste. Genevieve.
While COVID-19 is a new virus, preparing for responses to disasters is not new to hospitals. Emergency preparedness training is a year-round activity that is done at SGCMH as well as every other hospital.
“We spend a lot of time and effort in training and work through numerous drills,” said Tom Keim, SGCMH CEO. “We work very well with the Ste. Genevieve community disaster teams that are called on to help our community in a time of need and in this case I think everyone is doing their part to be prepared to take care of not only themselves but to be ready for patients when that time comes. The important thing we’re stressing is that it’s important for our employees to spread the word through our community that there are things that we can do to limit our exposure to the virus.”
CDC guidelines include the following tips to protect yourself and help prevent spreading the virus:
• Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub
• Cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or flexed elbow when you cough or sneeze
• Avoid close contact (6 feet) with people
• Stay home and self-isolate from others in the household if you feel unwell
• Don't Touch your eyes, nose, or mouth if your hands are not clean
“Coronavirus is a truck stop, gas pump, door handle, dollar bill away from entering our community,” said Keim. “We need to be diligent year round and these tips will help us keep colds, flus and in this case COVID-19 away from us and our families.”
Keim said the hospital took definite steps well over two weeks ago to make sure the facility was ahead of the game.
“We immediately started talking about training, checking our resources, and making sure we have the proper protective equipment for all of our people, particularly on the front lines” he said. “Then we began meetings with the Ste. Genevieve County Ambulance District and Ste. Genevieve County Health Department. We’re working with the overall emergency preparedness of how COVID-19 patients will be handled in this part of the region.”
The ambulance district is loaning the hospital the use of its Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) trailer for COVID-19 testing at the Park Drive Specialty Clinic.
“The mobile unit allows for screening away from the hospital, so we’re not introducing the virus into our facilities,” he said. “Right now, we have limited screening times, but we’re ready to expand those times as the numbers potentially grow. We’re in really good shape right now with test kits and we have the people who are trained to do the proper screening and then to do the testing. We have to take the guidelines of the CDC and that is exactly what we’re implementing. It’s the same type of screening and testing that is being done all across the country. You’re not getting any less of a screening when you come through Ste. Genevieve than you would get in St. Louis or New York.”
Hirshell Parker, SGCMH Quality Improvement Director, said if patients need screening, they should start by calling their physician’s office or the hospital at 883-7746.
“When a patient calls, they are going to be asked if they have a fever, any upper respiratory symptoms, and also asked if they have had any exposures to the corona virus,” said Parker. “Some of that criteria are what our nurse practitioners will use to determine if they need to be screened. After that conversation, they will be placed on a list for screening during the current hours Monday thru Friday, noon to 2 p.m.”
When it comes to hospital beds, Keim is confident there will be enough space. He explained that about 5% of the people who contract the corona virus are going to be hospitalized, of those 1-2 % may need an ICU and the number of people who would need a ventilator is about 1% or less. Most people who get COVID-19 will be told to stay home and only if symptoms advance would they need to seek medical attention. They’ll probably have an x-ray performed or may some lab work, but the large majority of people can be cared for at home.
“There’s never a good time for a pandemic, but fortunately, in just a few days, we’ll be opening our new medical office building and our new med surge wing, which will give us more beds. As a critical access hospital, we normally staff to 25 beds, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are allowing us to exceed our bed capacity if needed. We’ll be opening up 22 new private rooms; we have another eight beds on our OB wing; plus our old Med Surg, so we have additional rooms and beds that we can use.”
The hospital does not have an ICU, but Keim said the hospital can provide an ICU-type of care for a period of time.
“We’re not a long-term solution for ICU care, but we’re working closely with the St. Louis hospitals,” he said. “People should also know that we employ 192 nurses in our facilities. We feel good about our staff. The key is going to be the complexity of the patients that we’re able to keep.”
Parker echoed Keim’s comments on staff readiness.
“Over the past week or two, we’ve ramped up our staff education and protocol development to ensure that if we do have a flood of patients, we are very well prepared,” he said. This includes reviewing our visitor management protocols to staff training in putting on and taking off personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them safe and healthy throughout this time.”
Signs have been placed on every door to the hospital and there are limited access points.
“We do this mainly because we want to screen everyone who comes in,” Keim said. “They’ll be asked a series of questions and we will take their temperature--and it’s not just visitors. It’s every employee and every physician--everyone. We want to make sure that we are on top of this so that we ourselves aren’t transmitting it to our coworkers or patients.”
“Even though we are limiting some of the surgeries, our doctors want to convey the message that patients, with chronic conditions for example, still may need to see a doctor. We have the capability now to do telemedicine. If patients need to get in to see their doctor, we are making all arrangements to make that happen because people still need to take care of their day-to-day health. We continue to provide imaging tests and lab work every day. Even though we’re focused on COVID-19 right now, we are just as focused on taking care of our patients with any health need.”
Keim, who announced plans for his retirement a couple of months ago, certainly didn’t see a pandemic coming his way his last few months at SGCMH.
“I certainly never imagined this,” he said. “I couldn’t be more blessed to be working with people who are taking this very seriously and doing all the right things to prepare ourselves and the community when the COVID-19 does come to town. There is a real spirit of commitment. We care for our friends and family at Ste. Gen hospital and it’s wonderful to see everyone pitching in and doing what they can. I hope this is the calm before no storm."
Keim urges residents to refer the hospital’s website or Facebook page for the latest information.