Health officials preparing for COVID-19 cases


Schneck Medical Center led community leaders from churches, businesses and other sectors in a teleconference Friday to discuss updates and issues they are facing in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Schneck is taking precautionary measures to open up more beds for the potential influx of COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Eric Fish, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Schneck.

“We have been working around the clock to convert our old ICU area into a patient overflow site that has negative air pressure capability,” he said. “That is in pure preparation for a potential surge.”

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Fish said there are more than 14,000 cases of the virus nationwide and more than 200 deaths. In Indiana, there were 201 positive cases as of Sunday with six deaths. Jackson, Bartholomew, Jennings, Scott and Washington counties all have confirmed cases. One of the deaths is in Scott County.

Dr. Christopher Bunce, county health officer with the Jackson County Health Department and infectious disease specialist at Schneck, said he believes there are people in Jackson County who have COVID-19 that haven’t been tested.

“Our ability to contain this has of course been limited by our ability to do diagnostic testing,” he said. “So the numbers we’re seeing, the number of cases that have been confirmed in our state probably represents just a fraction of the actual cases.”

Those numbers are going to go up very quickly once Schneck and other hospitals and health care centers have more expanded diagnostic capability, he added. But exactly when more of the test kits will become available locally is still in question.

“In my opinion, we should assume that we have COVID-19 in Jackson County,” Bunce said. “To assume otherwise would be foolish.”

Fish said the hospital is monitoring its personal protective equipment, including gloves, face masks, protective eye wear, scrubs and hand sanitizer, very closely.

“We’re looking at multiple ways to conserve that supply,” he said.

He said preparations are being made to acquire more supplies including working with local dental offices and industries that may be able to provide some of the items needed.

Fish said several people in the community have called to donate land and buildings to set up temporary facilities in the event of a mass surge in patients with COVID-19.

“We do appreciate it,” he said. “It’s great to see the community come together for those resources.”

Schneck has changed its restrictions so that no visitors are allowed in the hospital with a few exceptions, including mothers in labor, surgery patients under sedation, anyone in the emergency department and end-of-life patients. All visitors or companions will have to undergo a COVID-19 screening before they are permitted to see the patient. No one under the age of 18 can visit the hospital at this time.

“We do recognize that this will cause frustrations for individuals visiting our facility but feel with the situation we are in, this is important at this time to implement,” Fish said.

The hospital also has canceled all nonessential visits with Schneck Physician Practices for the next two weeks.

Those patients whose appointments or treatments are deemed necessary will have to remain in their vehicles and will be called when a room becomes available to limit exposure in waiting rooms.

Karyn Fleetwood, administrative director of Lutheran Community Home in Seymour, said visitation was completely restricted at the senior living facility March 12 with the exception of end-of-life patients.

“We have celebrated some birthdays through windows, and we’re offering FaceTime and Skype to connect families,” she said. “We’ve had to become creative with a lot of things.”

The senior living facility is not allowing group activities or communal dining, which is a challenge, she said.

All employees are being screened upon entry to the building.

“We’re taking temperatures, we’re asking symptoms and we’re asking them not to leave during their shift, so we’re providing meals for them here,” Fleetwood said.

Staff are doing their best to conserve supplies, but something is always changing, she added.

“Today, it’s antimicrobial soap for our dispensers we’re having trouble getting,” she said.

Bunce said regular soap is just as good at killing the virus.

“It’s more important you have soap than antimicrobial soap,” he said.

Fleetwood’s biggest frustration with the situation is the lack of testing available for COVID-19.

“I want to make sure I’m making the best decisions I can make for our employees and our residents,” she said. “I’ll be grateful when the supply of testing increases, and I hope there is some prioritization that happens for front line health care workers.”

Schneck has implemented a 24-hour call center to answer questions related to COVID-19 and has seen an increase in the number of calls over the last few days, Fish said.

Another step the hospital is taking is connecting its providers in order to implement telehealth services so patients can interact with health care professionals virtually.

In the event the hospital has a surge in patients with COVID-19, it may become necessary to hire more help, Fish said.

“We wanted to have a contingency plan for a pool of employees we could bring right in,” he said. “We know a number of people in our community will be displaced from their job and so we wanted to have that capability in the event that we do need them.”

Warren Forgey, president and chief executive officer at Schneck, said the entire hospital team has been working around the clock to prepare for what they expect will be a significant increase in patients needing care over the next few weeks.

“Please continue to help us educate the public on the seriousness of this situation,” he said. “If we can slow the spread of this virus down, we’ll be better equipped at Schneck to handle the upcoming challenges.”

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