As much of society cancels itself, hospitals must forge ahead into the unknown future of the novel coronavirus. They are doing so with thoughtfulness and preparation and with the understanding that processes can change in a flash. Facilities are ceasing travel for staff, limiting the size of group gatherings, and making arrangements for an increase in suspected COVID-19 patients.
“North Texas hospitals are working diligently to care for any COVID-19 patients that require hospitalization,” said Steve Love, president and CEO of the DFW Hospital Council. “The hospital staffs carefully screen patients displaying symptoms consistent with COVID-19. The hospitals are also working closely with county health departments regarding county, state and federal requirements.”
Love said virtual tools would be used for screening and follow-up care and that testing sites outside of emergency departments would be set up to prevent the spread of the disease to other patients. On Thursday night, after banning gatherings of more than 500 people, County Judge Clay Jenkins noted that testing availability here was woefully lacking, just as it is across the country. But he said the situation is “rapidly improving as commercial labs come online.” Some of these off-campus sites will be on hospital campuses and others will be off site. Jenkins said he believes there are more cases in the community than have been identified, largely because of the lack of testing capacity.
If there is a surge of hospitalizations, hospitals are monitoring the number of beds and equipment, even though many of those with positive COVID-19 diagnoses will be asked to quarantine at home. “Finally, please do not panic as we are all working together to ensure the health and safety of our community,” Love says.
Parkland Health and Hospital System has been planning for appropriate protective equipment and negative air pressure rooms to prevent the spread of the disease. They are also providing education and refresher training and education for inpatient and outpatient services.
At UT Southwestern, out-of-state travel related to the medical center has been banned for 60 days. In addition, campus meetings such as grand rounds and lectures must not have more than 25 participants. The hospital will also “expand its capacity and ability to safely evaluate patients who come to our Emergency Room for care, for use as needed” to triage any patients arriving with upper respiratory symptoms.
Suspected patients are being isolated, staff is being trained to ask about travel, and if a patient is diagnosed, they are placed in an airborne infection isolation room. Anyone entering that room must wear a gown, a respirator, and eye protection with goggles or fluid shield mask and gloves.
At Children’s Medical Center Dallas, visitor and patient screenings are already in place that include travel history, and they have been screening since January 10 for those who have been to areas affected by the virus. Protocols and operating procedures are in place if a patient shows symptoms of the virus.
Texas Health Resources is also avoiding large group outings. The county has strongly suggested avoiding crowds of more than 250 and not allowing groups of more than 10 of high risk individuals. “Out of an abundance of caution, we are canceling a number of community gatherings throughout the system, and limiting our participation in large events.” a statement read. “We all play a role in reducing transmission of novel coronavirus COVID-19, and these actions are intended to protect the safety of our patients and our employees.”
Medical City Healthcare hospitals have “protocols in place to care for patients with infectious diseases and we are working diligently to help ensure we’re prepared for potential issues related to the spread of COVID-19,” according to a statement. The system has reinforced appropriate infection prevention protocols and are making sure they have enough supplies and equipment such as gowns, face shields and N-95 respirators.”
At a state level, the Texas Medical Association has created a task force to help prepare physicians to treat their patients, including a statewide tele-town hall phone meeting, which highlighted epidemiological updates and evidence-based criteria to analyze suspected COVID-19 patients and giving guidance about how physicians should set up their clinics.