Hospitals continue preps for expected surge of COVID-19 patients

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Equipment availability along with staffing support were among the issues the West Virginia Hospital Association and the hospitals the organization represents were working to address as a new week began with COVID-19 case numbers rising in the Mountain State.

Masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment, or PPEs, plus testing kits for COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, were in demand across West Virginia like in the rest of the United States.

Joe Letnaunchyn

“It may not be a situation critical at this minute (for West Virginia), but it’s going to ramp up as we get more patients involved in the facilities,” said Joe Letnaunchyn, president and CEO of the West Virginia Hospital Association.

“And we have to remember that there’s still ongoing, normal operations at hospitals in addition to this.”

David Goldberg, president and chief executive officer of Mon Health System, a WVHA member, made similar comments during a Monday appearance on “The Talk of the Town,” carried on WAJR, a MetroNews affiliate in Morgantown.

David Goldberg

After donations from Fairmont State University, West Virginia Junior College and Daniel’s of Morgantown, which provided handmade masks, “We’re okay,” said Goldberg. “We have weeks of supplies for gowns, gloves, masks.”

Goldberg said they were being conservative with equipment use while protecting healthcare workers.

That was the case as well for WVU Medicine, also part of WVHA.

“Our first priority really through all this is, if we want to treat our patients and families, etc., is to really keep our staff safe. If we don’t do that, then we’re not going to be able to provide health care to the folks who need us,” said Doug Mitchell, WVU Medicine – WVU Hospitals chief nursing officer.

Doug Mitchell

To prepare for any future supply demand, volunteers were being recruited on Monday for the West Virginia Mask Army made up of state residents donating their time and skills to sew masks to boost supplies for hospital staff members for protection against the new coronavirus.

For other needed supplies, “We’re spending inordinate amounts of money for equipment and to get ready for this care and provide this care,” said Letnaunchyn.

“Our revenue challenges are going to build up because a lot of things are just being canceled.”

He was looking to members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House to include hospitals and medical providers in coronavirus relief packages, including the plan that was still being worked on in Washington, D.C. on Monday morning.

The West Virginia Hospital Association, a not-for-profit organization, represents 62 hospitals and health systems statewide.

“The healthcare workers are the ones that, if they get sick, if they go down, if they’re not available, then the whole system goes down,” said Letnaunchyn.

Controlling demand was key, in the view of U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

“It’s not practical to think we’re going to treat our way out of this problem with new drugs or with ventilators or with supplies. We need to lower demand. We need more people talking about staying at home,” he said.

Goldberg has strong words for people not actively working to avoid contact with others.

“Anyone who’s going out and about instead of staying home and selectively getting gasoline, selectively buying groceries — selectively getting some food is fine — but anything more than that, then shame of you,” Goldberg said.

On Monday, Mitchell confirmed in-house testing for COVID-19 was available with WVU Medicine.

Some staff members were undergoing cross-training.

“We actually have lower census than normal here at Ruby (Memorial Hospital),” said Mitchell.

“That would be great if it stays that way, we’re not thinking that it will, so we want to make sure we have all hands on deck available as we move ahead and have surge.”

With limited cases of the new coronavirus being reported in the state on Monday, Letnaunchyn said West Virginia was trying to learn lessons from other states.

One emerging issue for healthcare workers seeing the first surges of the new coronavirus in other parts of the United States has been child care.

With some daycare centers closing, those workers have been scrambling to find adequate care for the kids so they can work.

“You need to keep the healthcare workers safe, but then you also have to have them in a comfortable environment where they know their family’s safe, their children are safe,” Letnaunchyn said.

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