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Friday, December 11, 2020

Data Glitch Resolved, St. Elizabeth Fort Thomas Has Plans in Place to Combat Surge


St. Elizabeth Fort Thomas is the lead on COVID-19 patients for the system.

by Robin Gee

A computer glitch put St. Elizabeth Fort Thomas Hospital on the national news for having the fourth most overtaxed intensive care unit based on capacity and number of patients. While the hospital is very busy and is seeing an unsettling rise in the number of patients with the disease along with the rest of the state and country, it is not experiencing the crisis numbers reported in the New York Times (NYT).

While the data on patients and beds submitted by the hospital was accurate, a glitch in the system added together the number of COVID patients (about 145) with the number of negative pressure rooms (100) available at the hospital, almost doubling the number.

Working together, moving forward

Since discovery the glitch, the hospital has been working with its partners in the Kentucky Hospital Association, Kentucky Department of Health and the Kentucky Department of Emergency Management to locate and correct the coding error that led to the miscount. 

Vera Hall, chief nursing executive at St. Elizabeth, said "We want to be clear that everyone is doing their level best, on every level of government and health care to do right by our patients and the communities we serve."

She emphasized that representatives from these organization have been working together to identify the coding issue and to ensure that things are corrected going forward. The need for accurate data is important, she said.

Yet, she said, she wanted the public to be aware that even though the number is much less than reported in the New York Times, the hospital is handling an average of 145 cases a day, and that number is rising.

St. Elizabeth Fort Thomas was selected to be the main resource for COVID patients within the hospital system, she explained. A team of medical and management experts created the system wide plan that groups all or most of the COVID patients at Fort Thomas because it has the resources in place, especially the negative pressure rooms so vital to the patients’ care.

This practice is called cohorting, keeping all these patients together. The team looks at available beds across the whole system, so as Fort Thomas begins to meet capacity, they can direct additional patients to nearby hospital beds in the system. Today, as we went to press, the hospital had 182 patients, but some have been sent to Florence and even to a St. Elizabeth facility in Dearborn, Indiana.

Hall noted that the number of patients fluctuates throughout the day. The number of patients at 7 a.m. could be different than the number at 9 a.m. There is an ebb and flow based on who is admitted and who is released, she said.

Still, the number of COVID positive patients is alarming, she said. "I really want people to be aware that whether the number is 145 or 200, that is a large number of patients. People should not discount the impact this disease is having."

The bottom line, the good and bad news

The good news is that the number is not as high as the NYT reported, and so far bed capacity at the Fort Thomas Hospital is not at crisis stage, thanks in great part to the system’s planning for this anticipated winter wave. 

The system is working as it now stands. Overflow patients are being sent on to Florence and other facilities, and the hospital has a team in place to monitor and adjust plans as needed.

The bad news is the number of patients is growing, and experts say we have not yet seen the full impact of the Thanksgiving holiday and, with Christmas and winter weather conditions approaching, we are likely to see many more before this "wave" subsides. 

Hall said, "Our communities have to keep doing our part. That means, social distancing, not gathering in groups, masks, washing hands...I worry about our patients but also the toll this has taken on our associates who are on the front lines of this day in and day out."

She said she is excited that the vaccine could be here soon, but warned that we have a long way to go and must keep on with all the safety protocols as important now as ever.

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

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