Coronavirus Q&A with Memorial Regional Health VP of Operations Jennifer Riley
The Craig press posed the following questions to Memorial Regional Health Vice President of Operations Jennifer Riley on Wednesday, March 25. Below is a question and answer format regarding coronavirus with Riley.
Craig Press: How many coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized at Memorial Regional Health?
Jennifer Riley: As of March 24, we have zero patients admitted for a positive COVID-19 result, and we don’t have any who are admitted awaiting COVID-19 results.
CP: How many coronavirus tests has the hospital administered?
Riley: Between the hospital and our associated medical clinics, we’ve sent roughly 35 tests to the State lab for analysis. So far, every test that has been administered has been negative. Memorial Regional Health is not the only entity sending out tests from Moffat County, however. All of the medical clinics in Craig have the capability to send tests to the state if the patient being seen meets the criteria to be tested. Our local public health team wants the community to focus on helping prevent the spread of this virus, rather than the number of tests being done. They are adamant that the best way to keep the numbers low in Moffat County is to follow the self-isolation recommendations – primarily staying away from crowds, washing your hands, and isolating yourself if you’re showing any signs of illness.
*Editor’s note: At the time of this Q&A with Riley, Moffat County still had not had a presumptive positive test of COVID-19. On Thursday morning around 9:30 a.m., the first presumptive positive case appeared in the county.
CP: Does MRH expect to reach capacity, and if so, when?
Riley: We have been planning for exactly that. We have converted a section of the inpatient side of the hospital – the wing previously used for OB – to negative pressure rooms. Negative pressure rooms are recommended for patients who are admitted with viruses that are spread by droplets – sneezing, coughing, etc. The negative pressure forces air to the outside through the ventilation system preventing the air from being pushed into other areas. It helps keep others – including our staff – safe. Before the conversion, we only had three rooms that could be turned to negative pressure. Now we have six additional rooms, bringing our total to nine. As for when we might hit our capacity, it is hard to say. If we, as a community, are successful in slowing the spread, it may be several weeks away.
CP: Why is MRH still doing elective surgery, when the Governor ordered hospitals to stop?
Riley: The Governor’s order exempted Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs). Governor Polis recognizes that elective surgery and other elective procedures make up a significant portion of revenue for small hospitals. For MRH, nearly half of our monthly revenue is generated by outpatient procedures. Patient and staff safety is our number one priority. MRH is evaluating all of its services on a daily basis. Currently, we do not have any positive cases of coronavirus/COVID-19 in Moffat County. We have no patients admitted who are awaiting coronavirus/COVID-19 test results. Our surgical team is screening all patients prior to scheduling surgery and upon arrival. If there is any concern that the patient may have been exposed or is not feeling well, we are not doing surgery.
CP: What is MRH’s contingency plan in the event the hospital reaches its 25-bed capacity?
Riley: We are working on a number of contingency plans, including capacity and staffing. Staffing is our most critical resource. If staff become ill, then we further limit our ability to care for patients. This is one of the reasons we have started limiting access to the hospital and started to segregate the sick from the well in our clinics. Our ER physicians are working on how to minimize contact with sick patients while still providing the highest level of care needed. Our clinic physicians are in the process of implementing telehealth services – connecting to patients via phone and video – for health problems that don’t require an in-person visit.
As for our capacity contingency plans, we are communicating daily with our regional and state partners. We know that in addition to a limited number of inpatient beds (25), we also have a limited amount of critical care equipment (like ventilators) that may be needed to care for those who become seriously ill. We will work with our partners to help determine where we can transfer the sickest patients. This plan will likely evolve as this epidemic evolves.
CP: What other locations are being considered for use if the hospital reaches capacity?
Riley: Our sickest patients are typically transferred to Grand Junction or the Denver area. We would anticipate these would be our go-to hospitals, but given the surge our State will likely be facing in the coming weeks, it’s truly unknown. I would expect that we will be implementing solutions never before thought of or utilized.
CP: Are any MRH employees, doctors or nurses staying home because of symptoms? Are any known to have COVID-19?
Riley: We do have some employees who are out sick, which is not unusual. If they meet the screening criteria, we can send in the test to CDPHE for analysis. We have had staff who have self-quarantined because they were sick with other illness like influenza or gastrointestinal illness. We also have staff who have traveled recently, and we are asking them to take extra precautions like wearing a mask at all times or to work in areas that do not involve direct patient contact for a period of time. This is not something we are required to do, but we feel it is prudent given the rapid spread of coronavirus/COVID-19 worldwide.
CP: What else does the community need to know?
Riley: First, take this seriously. I am still hearing that people think all of these restrictions and closures are an overreaction. They are not. There are over 400,000 confirmed cases world-wide. The United States has the third-most confirmed cases. Colorado is in the top ten states for number of deaths. These restrictive measures are not an overreaction.
Second, if you come to any of MRH’s facilities, know you will be asked questions regarding travel and recent illness. If you answer yes to our screening questions, you will be asked to wear a mask, at minimum. This is for your safety, other patients’ safety and our staff members’ safety.
Third, recognize that the additional restrictions we’ve implemented like not allowing visitors except for a few specific reasons is a way to ensure that our staff and our patients are not unnecessarily exposed to illness. Our community does not have a large pool of extra medical personnel from which to pull. If our frontline staff and doctors become sick, it will certainly impact our ability to provide critical care when it’s most needed.
Finally, know that MRH is doing everything we know to do to be prepared. No disaster drill could ever have prepared us for what we are facing today. But the team of staff who are working on this around the clock are some of the very best, most dedicated healthcare experts in the valley.
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While the state of Colorado will receive much less in vaccines in the second major rollout than expected, Moffat County continues to roll along vaccinating community members with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.