As the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase in Kansas — including one in neighboring Woodson County — Allen County Regional Hospital is preparing for the likelihood of cases here.
The most visible change took place last week, when the hospital started prohibiting visitors with a handful of exceptions. Anyone who enters the hospital — patients, visitors and staff — are screened to determine the likelihood of illness. They are not currently taking the temperatures of those who arrive, but have discussed it, Patty McGuffin, chief nursing officer, said.
“As you can imagine, it’s a very emotional thing for our patients to not have visitors or for the family to not be able to come in,” McGuffin said. “Everyone has been very understanding, but sometimes it’s really hard.”
The hospital also has canceled elective surgeries, closed its cafeteria to the public and suspended the auxiliary volunteer group and the Senior Life Solutions therapy group.
Most who become ill with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms and recover after a week or two. The elderly and those with underlying health conditions are more likely to experience more severe symptoms that could require oxygen treatments or a ventilator.
In the event that local patients become so ill with COVID-19 that they need to be hospitalized, ACRH likely would send them to a larger facility, such as to hospitals in Kansas City, Wichita or Topeka.
That’s typical for rural, critical access hospitals like ACRH, which do not have the resources to treat more serious or specialized conditions. ACRH, for example, has only one ventilator and another designed for short-term use, McGuffin said. Hospital staff have secured other devices that could be used on a temporary basis, she said.
But with a global pandemic, it’s possible all hospitals could face an influx of patients. ACRH could have to look at alternative solutions, such as increasing the number of available beds.
It also matters what types of underlying conditions a patient has, such as cardiac problems, McGuffin said.
“We had a team meet to discuss what types of patients we can take and what kind of beds we can turn into more acute, critical beds,” McGuffin said.
“I don’t have a number. It depends on the type of patients we have. If it’s an all-hands-on-deck emergency, we’ll be taking care of patients on couches and recliners. We can go to extremes. When you’re planning these things, you have to think way outside the box. You really do everything you can, if we get to the point where we can’t transfer patients.”
Dr. Brian Neely, who serves as ACRH’s chief of staff, agreed. “What Patty said is important. If everywhere else is full, we’ll have to find solutions to keep people at the hospital who need to be at the hospital. We’ll have to take it as it comes and adjust depending on what comes in.”
EQUIPMENT SHORTAGE isn’t currently a problem at ACRH, McGuffin said, but that also could change depending on the number and types of patients.
A committee is examining the possibility of asking nurses and staff to conserve personal protective equipment like masks, gloves, goggles, face shields and the like if those items aren’t soiled. Typical protocol calls for frequently changing those things.
ACRH has sufficient supplies at the moment, she said.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about masks,” McGuffin said.
Residents have asked if they could sew and donate masks, but she has declined those offers. Such masks don’t provide enough protection and would only be desired in a significant emergency situation, she said.
The Allen County Healthcare Coalition, working with emergency management officers, requested access to a national supply of personal protective equipment but was denied because no positive cases have been reported in Allen County.
ACRH also would have access to an emergency supply through Hospital Corporation of America, the world’s largest healthcare system that currently manages ACRH.
But it’s also possible the reverse could be true. Larger hospitals could ask smaller facilities for resources because rural hospitals likely would have fewer patients and would be sending patients to their facilities.
Dr. Ryan Coffield, an Iola dentist who serves on the board of trustees, asked questions about the hospital’s plan.
“I realize supplies are difficult to obtain, so I want to make sure we have a plan in place and that you’ve been talking to the medical staff on this,” he said.
McGuffin assured him hospital staff are taking the matter seriously and that she meets frequently with the medical staff.