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State takes next step to ready St. Francis as COVID surge hospital

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state is building on a process it began in April and will prepare St. Francis Hospital in downtown Charleston to be used as a surge hospital for COVID-19 patients if needed.

Governor Justice

Gov. Jim Justice announced the move during his coronavirus media briefing Monday at the state capitol.

“We’re doing this as a test run to absolutely be ready in every way,” Justice said.

Work began four months ago with St. Francis owner Thomas Health System to prep the facility for up to 75 patients. It hasn’t been needed because COVID-19 patient counts have stayed relatively low across the state until now. Hospitalizations were at 116 Monday afternoon.

State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh said there’s currently plenty of room in hospitals in West Virginia to treat COVID patients. He said there are enough ICU beds and ventilators. He said hospitals are filling up though with other patients undergoing elective procedures.

“Our hospitals have really activated again to catch-up on what people didn’t have done during the initial phase of the COVID pandemic,” Marsh said Monday.

State Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said 15 beds will be prepared at St. Francis this week.

Bill Crouch

“That number could increase as needed as we go forward,” Crouch said. “The surge hospital is designed to treat coronavirus patients diagnosed at medical facilities across the state who are primarily in need of active short-term care or rehabilitation services. Transfers will be coordinated through DHHR and the Thomas Health Transfer Center.”

Marsh said it also be used for nursing home patients transitioning back into those homes after a COVID-related hospital stay.

“There is oftentimes a hesitation to accept people who are transferred from an acute care hospital back to a nursing home sometimes so St. Francis could also provide for us an outlet,” Marsh said.

Thomas Health President and CEO Dan Lauffer said they are glad to work with the state.

“We continue to work through this pandemic together. Thomas Heath and Saint Francis stand ready to care for the community during this difficult time,” Lauffer said. “It’s part of our mission, it’s part of being a faith-based institution.”

Crouch said they’re still not sure the surge hospital will be necessary but they’ll be ready if it is.

“We’re trying to make sure we have a back up plan in place to know everything is in place as needed as we move forward,” Crouch said.

The state said no visitors would be allowed to COVID-19 patients transferred to St. Francis, iPads will be provided to allow for scheduled televideo visits.

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