A pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge to hospitals tasked with caring for people who’ve become infected by a new disease for which there is limited information and no treatment. People who test positive for COVID-19 and display symptoms such as high fever, coughing and shortness of breath are put in isolation inside these frontline healthcare facilities.
DeKalb Regional Medical Center CEO Patrick Trammell said Fort Payne’s hospital is prepared to respond to a potential influx of patients and has the supplies and staff they would need to meet the challenge.
“We continually review our inventory and are working closely with our state department of health. We continue to have an adequate number of ventilators, PPE and staff to care for COVID-19 and non-COVID19 patients needing varying level of care,” Trammell said.
In March, public health officials took dramatic community actions to reduce people’s risk of being exposed, “flatten the curve” and slow the curve” and slow the spread of disease so hospitals would not become overwhelmed. Many of the restrictions have been lifted as officials look for outbreaks.
“Should a patient surge occur, we work closely with other regional hospitals to facilitate quick access to the most appropriate level of care for patients in need. We have full confidence we will continue to be able to care for COVID-19 patients.
"We have created additional capacity if a patient surge occurs. And as always, should capacity or patient acuity levels become a concern, we work closely with public health officials and other regional hospitals to facilitate quick access to the most appropriate level of care for patients,” Trammell said.
DeKalb Regional’s patient volumes and acuity levels change by the hour. As a testing site for those with suspected COVID-19 referred by local physicians, Trammell said the hospital has averaged conducting around 30-40 tests per week.
“With the continued rise in cases in our region, we expect to treat a number of individuals with the virus. Additionally, we provide daily reports regarding bed availability and more to the Alabama Incident Management data repository.
"DeKalb Regional also encourages open communication between local nursing homes and the hospital. We routinely update local nursing homes of our capacity,” he said.
Trammell encouraged local employers to reach out to the state health department for guidance on preventing workplace spread of the coronavirus.
The hospital uses Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols to keep patients, employees and visitors safe. The environment has been specifically modified with separate entrances for general ER patients and those with suspected COVID-19. Clinical grade disinfection takes place hourly in affected areas. Staff and patients also wear masks at all times. They limit entry into the hospital by screening with questions about a guest’s travel history and check for fever or respiratory symptoms.
Across Alabama as of June 23, there have been 2,521 hospitalizations since March 13 attributed to the coronavirus, and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) estimates 15,974 cases are presumed recoveries among 30,670 cases. ADPH’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard reports 854 Alabamians have died of it, with another 10 listed as probable.
Inside DeKalb County, ADPH reports 427 cases of infection since March 26, the date of the first reported case in the county. ADPH has attributed five deaths in that timeframe as being caused by coronavirus infection. In the last 14 days, 149 more positive cases have been detected locally (9,062 statewide). Inside the county, a total of 3,822 tests have been performed. The dashboard does not break down local figures for hospitalizations since March 13 or presumed local recoveries. The information is also not available at the town and city level.
Trammell said the hospital is working closely with state and local agencies to manage the challenges associated with an outbreak and has a “cohesive process in place” with ADPH, the Alabama Hospital Association, DeKalb Ambulance Service, emergency management agencies, law enforcement and fire departments.
“We appreciate the care and attention given this issue by the state and local school systems as they work in tandem with health care officials, elected leaders and community stakeholders to make the best decision for students this coming school year,” he said.
Responding properly to COVID-19 comes at a high cost, but financial restructuring earlier this year enables DeKalb Regional to continue this critical mission. Trammell said a website, QuorumForward.com, gives more details about the actions taken.
He encouraged everyone to reduce the stresses put on physicians, nurses, clinical and administrative staff by continuing to take actions to flatten the curve locally.
“Social distancing and infection prevention protocols remain vital in addressing the spread of the virus. We urge the community to continue with frequent hand washing, avoiding crowded areas, physical distancing (remain six feet apart), wearing a cloth face covering when you cannot stay six feet apart, and staying home when you are sick,” Trammell said.
If any readers believe they may be sick or have come in contact with someone who has tested positive, they should avoid leaving home, self-isolate and call their family doctor to describe their symptoms and tell them that they may have the coronavirus. This will help Emergency Medical Services like DeKalb Ambulance Service to safely take care of those who are symptomatic while preventing other people from getting infected or exposed.
Anyone seeking emergency care is screened upon arrival at DeKalb Regional’s ER, located at 200 Medical Center Drive in Fort Payne, to help ensure the appropriate site of care, isolating those who require it.
Separate areas in the ER and inpatient units are provided for general ER patients and with strict isolation protocols in place for COVID patients. Those needing general care are NOT placed in the same area as those suspected of having the virus.
“We can’t stress enough how important it is for people to make their appointments for necessary surgeries, wellness and preventative exams, management of chronic conditions, high-acuity maintenance care (cancer, heart, etc.), and other procedures. We have taken extensive precautions to protect patients and staff and by delaying care, you risk serious complications and even death. As always, go to the emergency room if you have a life-threatening emergency,” Trammell said.
Telehealth appointments are a great option to avoid in-person visits when appropriate.
“We offer telehealth options at many of our clinic locations. For more information on Telehealth, visit DeKalbAnytime.com.”
Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus cases. Asymptomatic carriers and those not sick enough to be hospitalized can isolate and recover at home for up to 14 days after testing positive. On its website, the CDC offers instructions for self-care at home.