By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – With spiking COVID numbers across the region, concern about the status of hospitals naturally rises. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions that have spread through social media regarding the capability of our local hospitals to deal with the pandemic.
The number of COVID inpatients at Cookeville Regional Medical Center (CRMC), the region’s largest hospital, are at a record high of 41 as of 9 a.m. on Friday, with four patients awaiting test results. Only 16 of those patients are from Putnam County with the rest from the surrounding area. COVID patients are using only 17.3% of the available beds in the hospital.
There are 10 COVID patients in the ICU, occupying 23.8% of the ICU beds, with only four currently on ventilators.
CRMC has 24 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 14 cardiovascular intensive care unit CVICU beds. Four additional rooms could be converted to ICU beds if needed.
“We are really prepared,” said CRMC Infectious Disease Specialist Mark Pierce. “Paul Korth (CRMC CEO) and the rest of the administrative team have done a really good job of getting us ready, so we are equipped to handle way more than we have. I’m not saying it’s not stressful since a lot of patients are ill, but we are very much equipped to handle more.”
Currently, overnight elective surgeries have not been stopped. They have been limited and will continue to be further limited as necessary. Korth has said that one option in the event COVID cases continue to escalate is to stop elective procedures.
“We’ll have to stop elective procedures,” said Korth about future measures if cases continue to rise. “We’ll have to stop doing those things that can basically be put off for a period of time without any threatening conditions that would cause somebody additional problems.”
Last week, visitation to the inpatient rehabilitation center was suspended indefinitely. There has been no change to visitation restrictions at the main hospital.
Hospital officials continue to stress the importance of wearing a mask to fight this disease. Regular washing of the mask in hot water and drying it on high heat is recommended.
CRMC has procedures in place to deal with patients as they enter with potential COVID symptoms. There’s also a wing of the hospital facility designated for treating COVID patients.
“Let’s say a patient is sick and comes to the ER showing possible signs of COVID and they haven’t been tested yet, that patient would be isolated,” said Korth. “They would be put into a room where a test would be done. If they needed to be admitted, they would be admitted to a certain section of the hospital that is sectioned off for COVID patients or suspect COVID patients (patients tested and showing signs of COVID) until test results are back.
“If that patient is admitted, he/she is put into the isolation area. All of the CRMC employees would use the PPE supplies they have available and treat any patient in that area as a positive COVID patient,” Korth continued. “When test results are back, if the patient is negative for COVID but still sick, the patient would be moved back into the parts of the hospital where the non-COVID patients are and treatment would continue. If they tested positive, they would stay in the COVID section and treatments would continue for their illness.”
CRMC has detailed policies in place to keep staff members who work with COVID cases isolated as much as possible.
“We have worked out procedures in the hospital that allowed the employee the ability that when they came in in the morning, they could change from the clothes they wore from home into a set of scrubs,” Korth added. “Then when they left in the evening, we had a place for them to shower and change back into the clothes they wore from home, if they elected to do that. And then leave the clothes they wore while they were working the shift at the medical center.
“We also worked out arrangements where that staff stayed segmented to themselves. We took food from our nutrition services up to them. We had a dining area in the COVID unit, so they all stayed in the unit during their shift to eliminate a lot of foot traffic from in and out of the unit because we didn’t want this virus to travel outside the unit.”