Are PA Hospitals Prepared for Another COVID-19 Spike
November 18, 2020
A resurgence of COVID-19 across the country has many worried and concerned about what the future holds. Published reports have U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams quoted as saying that “pandemic fatigue” is most likely to blame. He said people are tired and not taking mitigation efforts as seriously as they did before. 800 nurses went on strike on November 17 at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, a suburb of Philadelphia. They say they face a staffing shortage and nurses are caring for up to seven patients at a time when they should only be taking care of 3 or 4. That’s unwelcome news at a time that is so critical in healthcare. Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine held a press conference on the same day, stressing the need for increased vigilance to fight the disease. A report based on a model from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) from the University of Washington and distributed to the state from the White House Task Force projects that if cases continue to rise at the level that they are at now, Pennsylvania will run out of intensive care beds in December but should have sufficient medical surgical beds available. However, Dr. Levine said they may not be available in all areas and the report doesn’t take into account cases of influenza. Dr. Levine also called on hospitals and healthcare officials to be proactive now, including moving up elective procedures in the event they have to be postponed like they were this past spring.
So, are hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania ready for the increase in cases and what’s to come? R. Matthew Mattei, Media Relations Specialist for Geisinger Community Medical Center, Scranton, Lackawanna County, Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, Wilkes-Barre and Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, didn’t give an exact number of beds the hospitals had available for COVID-19 patients but did say, “Many of our hospitals are operating at critically high occupancy rates. Because of this, we are activating plans made in the spring to create adequate staffing and bed capacity. Despite these increases in our communities and our hospitals, we continue to use learnings from the first wave to safely treat non-COVID illnesses and we have taken countless measures to ensure we can continue delivering care in a safe environment.” He said their hospitals are prepared to handle the resurgence by following the same precautions they took in the spring, in addition to using new discoveries in technology and medicine “Because of recent trends, we recently revised our visitation policy to help protect our patients, visitors and staff while limiting COVID-19’s spread in our area. These are many of the same precautions we took back in the spring that helped us successfully get through the peak. That’s why we’ve decided to proactively do the same now. As we continue to manage COVID in our communities, we have developed analytics to anticipate inpatient capacity. Closely monitoring these models allows us to modify schedules to make sure people get care they need when they need it. Our teams are still here to safely care for all of our communities’ health needs – COVID or not. Very much like what we saw in March, April and May, we are continuing to see community spread in our area. Our early efforts to stop the virus’ spread stemmed the tide over the summer, but as many of us have grown fatigued by the virus, we’ve seen precautionary measures like masking, distancing and limiting group gatherings become more lax. There is a lot of information out there about COVID, but it is active in our communities and our loved ones continue to get sick and require hospitalization. Even if you are someone who may not get severely ill, you can still perpetuate the virus’ spread and put at-risk individuals in greater danger. Since the spring, however, we have gotten much better at treating and managing COVID-19 with advanced technology and equipment like ECMO and new medications and therapies like convalescent plasma and more.”
Wayne Memorial Hospital, Honesdale, Wayne County, has seen a small uptick in COVID-19 cases recently after having no cases for months according to Lisa Champeau, Manager of Public Relations/Marketing. They currently have between four to six COVID-19 patients. But overall, the hospital is ready to handle a surge in cases. She said the hospital has 21 beds in its COVID-19 unit on a portion of one floor of the hospital and if there was an overflow, they could convert another part of the same floor into a COVID unit. In addition to using negative air pressure rooms and ventilators (although Champeau stressed not every COVID-19 patient needs one) among other techniques, the hospital has been using two ultraviolet-C germ-killing robots since mid October to sanitize rooms after patients are discharged. The machines destroy 99.9% of the bacteria and spores left in the room. The technology also effectively kills COVID-19 on hard, nonporous surfaces. Champeau said the hospital had been looking at getting them for a while. In addition to providing COVID testing at the hospital, Champeau said they continue to provide mobile drive through testing at the former Wayne Health Pharmacy in the Stourbridge Plaza, Honesdale, from 7:30am to 4pm. The testing they provide is PCR testing, which Champeau says is the most accurate and the “gold standard.”