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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Checking in With St. Elizabeth: Ready for the Surge and Beyond

St. Elizabeth Fort Thomas Hospital is working to keep patients and staff safe during this latest COVID-19 surge and is looking ahead at how to manage a vaccine. (photo: St. Elizabeth Healthcare)

by Robin Gee

Experience can bring knowledge and, as they say, knowledge is power. For St. Elizabeth Healthcare the lessons learned earlier this year in dealing with the corona virus have helped them be better prepared and better equipped to handle the current surge of COVID-19 patients.

"How we address the uptick in the number of COVID cases now is a much different process than it was last spring," said Dr. Jim Horn, chief quality officer for St. Elizabeth Healthcare. "In spring we were worried how to keep our patients safe, how to take care of our staff, our associates and physicians. Now this is a known issue."

Also last spring, personal protective equipment (PPE) was an issue. "It was touch and go," said Horn. "Now we know how to store and stockpile PPE. We’ve had time to develop a COVID surge plan. We now have enough negative pressure rooms. We understand better now how to keep patients and staff safe."

He said there were a lot of unknowns last spring. With less testing it was harder to know who was sick and who was not, how best to protect staff. A lot of the issues that arose in the spring are less of an issue now. 


Plans in place make a big difference

The entire St. Elizabeth Healthcare system has a surge plan in place now, he said. At the Fort Thomas hospital, for example, capacity has been greatly increased through the addition of many more negative pressure rooms.

He said that now that it is clear that COVID-19 is an airborne virus, adding more rooms that can control air going in and out is an important step. Most hospitals already had a few "airborne isolation rooms" used for patients with known airborne diseases such as tuberculosis. The hospital not only has converted several more rooms to negative pressure, but also has the capability to turn entire floors into negative pressure areas, said Horn.

The healthcare system staff has found that "cohorting" COVID patients, keeping them in one campus, is safest and most efficient. Fort Thomas has been designated for that purpose. Yet, said Horn, there is still room and capacity to take care of non-COVID patients. With its surge plan in place, the system is well-equipped to manage the caseload of all patients and ensure everyone's safety, he added.

Mint Yoga Studio. 18 N. Fort Thomas Ave. 

Preparing for a vaccine

Good news came out this week in that the drug companies Moderna and Pfizer have had promising results for a vaccine. Other big drug companies are also testing vaccines, and experts said it is very likely there will be more than one vaccine available once testing is done and they are ready to go into production.

At this point, a lot is still unknown, said Horn, but St. Elizabeth is making plans and preparations as much as is possible. The system has a task force that includes pharmacists, physicians, nurse leaders, the chief medical officer, chief operating officer and other key staff, devoted to planning for the vaccine whenever it is available.

"Right now there is not a great deal of specificity. We don’t yet know whose vaccine we will get and when it will be available," he said.

The task force is looking at issues of cold storage, supply lines and points of distribution, but a lot will depend on what is on offer. "We do have cold storage capacity in our system," said Horn, but when the time comes, "we will take direction from the state based on the capacity we have."

What people can do now to help

When asked what advice he’d give the public, Dr. Horn said he knew people have heard it over and over but "the biggest things, I must reiterate what most folks have said, are to stay home, wear masks, socially distance, wash your hands."

Right now the surge is coming from community spread. At present this spread is driving the increased volume of patients needing hospitalization, and it will decrease if we can get a handle on the community spread, he said.

Still, he also wanted people to know "We are here. We have the capacity to take care of you, if you need us."

For more on how St. Elizabeth Healthcare is keeping patients and staff safe during the pandemic, see the St. Elizabeth Open and Safe website.

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