EMC prepared for coronavirus
By Halei Lamb | March 19, 2020 9:57 am
Last Updated: March 19, 2020 at 11:52 am
by HALEI LAMB
Damien Scott, CEO of Emanuel Medical Center, is adamant he doesn’t want to add fuel to community’s panic and concern about COVID-19, but he wants to be transparent in that the local hospital is ready to act. There are currently no cases of COVID-19, more commonly referred to as coronavirus, in Emanuel County. However, Scott says based on the intel the hospital has received, EMC suspects there will be cases here eventually, perhaps in the next few weeks.
“Thankfully, more than 70 percent of the cases are mild,” Scott explains. “Most people will have mild symptoms, like a fever and a cough, and they will recover fully. Based on what we know from other locations, if you’re elderly and/or have health problems, things like cardiovascular disease, some of the cases will become severe, and a small portion of those are at risk for dying. Again, though, the majority of people will have mild cases.”
In the spirit of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, Emanuel Medical has stocked up on supplies and put into action protocols that protect the most vulnerable. Despite being difficult decisions to make, nursing home and ICU visitors have been restricted.
“Those were extremely hard decisions for us, but we’re trying to protect the ones who matter most in this situation. If your loved one is in the nursing home and you’re not able to see them, I fully understand how hard that is. My mom is in a lockdown in a facility where all visitors are restricted, so I get it. But we have an obligation to protect our most at-risk population.”
In response, the hospital is currently working to implement some type of communication mechanism for residents, patients, and their families. This mechanism, according to Scott, will be more than just a phone. The idea hadn’t come to fruition as of press time and Scott admitted he didn’t know when it would be put into place, but he was confident EMC would find a solution.
Another significant, difficult decision EMC found itself forced to make in the wake of the novel virus was the closure of the cafeteria to the public.
“Again, that was a difficult decision, given how much our cafeteria is enjoyed by the community, but we made this decision with the best of intentions. We want to protect those who are at risk, certainly, but we also want to protect those who are sick with other illnesses like the flu. We want to protect those people from the coronavirus as much as possible because again, the people who are going to stay healthy are the people who are young and without illness. The people within these facilities typically don’t fit into that category.”
In addition, the hospital has ramped up its precautionary measures by screening visitors to the med-surge/regular floor. Visitors who come into the hospital are subject to a series of questions as well as a temperature reading. If a person passes, patients are allowed one visitor at a time. Those visitors must be over 18 as well.
“This situation is changing so quickly, so this is what we’re doing today. It could absolutely be different tomorrow or in the coming days,” Scott says. “Obviously if we have someone who is in extremely critical condition and there is an irrefutable need for them to see their family, we’re going to use the best wisdom we have to make exceptions under those circumstances.”
He also added that the protocols adopted by EMC ahead of the coronavirus aren’t specific to Emanuel County. Instead, the hospital is following CDC guidelines. “I would bet there’s not a nursing home today in the United States that is not using these same practices. An entire nursing home up in Washington—residents and staff alike—took a huge hit. This situation devastated that nursing home, and we cannot let that happen our population.”
Should someone in the community feel concerned they have the virus or want to be tested, Scott’s advice is simple. Call your doctor. He says your doctor will ask a series of questions about your fever and explore the possibility of your exposure to COVID-19. Then, your physician, in collaboration with the Department of Public Health, will make a decision regarding your need to be tested.
“The DPH is still triaging people because there’s not enough tests to screen every single person who wants to be tested, but it also makes logical sense,” Scott explains. “If somebody has a child who has a low fever, there are all kinds of things that can cause a low fever. The coronavirus is not really even a childhood disease; it is primarily affecting older adults.”
Of course, even explaining all of this, he knows some anxiety will linger. Not only does Emanuel Medical Center have the supplies to deal with COVID-19, hospital leaders and staff are being briefed daily by the DPH, the Georgia Hospital Association, and the CDC. ERH, the hospital group which EMC is part of, is also having daily huddles. The coronavirus, Scott assures the public, is the highest priority. The local hospital is prepared to scale up should a major outbreak occur on the local level, and Scott says he has some of the best people in the state to address such a situation.
As far as what community members can do themselves, Scott stresses the importance of hand-washing and social distancing.
“What social distancing does is slows down the spread of the disease so that we can respond appropriately. Let me give you an example: if I go out to eat on the weekend, then we go to the movies, then the next morning I go to the gym, then that night we go to a ball game, then the next morning I go to church. It is very likely I interacted with 1,000 people in small settings. But if I go home, eat with my family, watch something on Netflix, the next morning we go walk a trail in the area that very few people were on, the next day we do family worship at home, and I read a book, I probably only interacted with five or seven people. Could I still get the disease? Yes. Are my chances very low? Very low—at least of spreading the disease. If I’m around 700 people, does that guarantee I’m going to get it? No, but it certainly increases my odds. So what social distancing is doing is, ‘Alright, let’s go ahead and slow this down enough that we don’t end up in a situation where don’t have enough ICU beds.’”
Although social distancing certainly works, Scott suggests the public be mindful not to entirely isolate the elderly population. Calling, FaceTiming, and sending letters or notes are among the suggested ways of ensuring elders know they’re loved and cared for during this time.
With the coronavirus creeping closer to the homefront by the day came the closure of schools, government facilities, and other operations across the county. Several groups of leaders have met over the last few days to discuss their courses of action. Scott and his staff have very much been involved in those discussions.
“We want to make sure all communication is open between us and EMS and our county partners. This is going to take all-hands-on-deck to solve this. We really have two situations: we have the coronavirus and the threat of the coronavirus. Right now, our community is experiencing the threat of the coronavirus. We’re not being able to buy meat, toilet paper, and do normal activities as usual. I suspect it’s going to have a financial hardship on people, so this is going to take all of our community coming together in a way that I think we never have.”
Ahead of the virus coming here, Scott urges the community to reroute panic into good ol’ preparation. Specifically, spend your energy in a productive manner, he says. Supply chains are still open, so there’s no need to panic buy. What people can do is pray, reach out to the elderly, and help others who have to continue working amid the COVID-19 situation while simultaneously having to care for their children. The general public should also try to stay as physically and mentally healthy as possible. “Write five letters to someone in the nursing home. FaceTime your grandparents. Help nurses and law enforcement and people with non-stop careers with their children. Exercise. Eat nutritionally well. Watch enough news to know what’s going on, then turn it off and refocus your energy on something productive. Doing things like that will help tremendously.”
Still, if the unimaginable becomes a reality, EMC is ready. Should someone in the community come down with COVID-19, the illness, according to Scott, is not severe and the patients will be homebound. The supplies, knowledge, and resources to tap are at the ready for the hospitalizations that might occur in Emanuel.
“Again, we have the supplies and the expertise. We’ll also partner with the DPH and others that’ve gone before us. There are already articles being written for medical journals about how to treat COVID-19, so we’re briefing our medical staff on those. The majority of people will have a mild illness. We don’t know that it’ll come here, but as fast as it has spread throughout the United States, even in remote areas, the chances of it coming here are very high, probably over the next few weeks. Again, let’s not panic. Let’s just be as prepared as possible.”