With a potential surge of coronavirus cases projected to hit Wyoming in a week or two, Campbell County Health officials say they are prepared to handle that challenge when it comes.
“We’re as ready as we’re ever going to be,” said Misty Robertson, CCH chief nursing officer.
Should there be a surge, areas in the hospital have been identified so coronavirus patients can be treated without putting the other patients at risk. All the departments have plans in place to deal with a surge.
“We believe we could support up to 64 inpatients,” she said at a special hospital board meeting Thursday night.
“If we were to have that surge, we would use nursing staff from departments that haven’t been able to operate during this time,” Robertson said.
CCH also has formed an intubation team, made up of EMS personnel and anesthesia and emergency room doctors who can rotate and spend the night at the hospital if patients need to be put on ventilators.
The projection model from the University of Washington, which is used by the White House, has shifted its projections down for Wyoming. Those have changed because of stay-at-home recommendations, closure of businesses and social distancing.
“Three weeks ago, they were predicting, we’d need over 60 ventilators, 130 deaths, that’s between now and August,” said Dr. Nick Stamato, chief of medical staff.
Wyoming is now projected to have 34 deaths from the coronavirus. It currently has two.
Those projections give Stamato and the rest of the hospital staff hope that CCH and the community will make it through in better shape, as long as people continue social distancing and staying at home.
“It’ll be very stressful, but we have the resources we think to manage it,” he said.
Chief Operating Officer Colleen Heeter said CCH has more than a thousand test swabs and is working with Campbell County Public Health to get more people tested.
The state has sent CCH another test that only takes 15 minutes. It will only be used for critical or emergency situations, because CCH only has nine of the test kits. Heeter hopes to have in-house testing capabilities within the next few weeks, but those also will be used in critical situations.
CCH is doing well in conserving its personal protective equipment. The hospital has received 2,300 cloth masks from the community, which is enough for a three-day supply, said chief financial officer Mary Lou Tate.
Heeter said CCH also donated 60 masks to the Council of Community Services, which will give them to the homeless.
Toyota is shipping CCH a thousand face shields next week, which gives the hospital “an abundance” of the item. Tate has reached out to the fire department, local law enforcement and the hospitals in Sheridan and Buffalo to see if they can use some of the face shields.
Harbor Freight donated a pallet’s worth of gloves, which combined with a shipment of gloves CCH has ordered, “puts us well over what we’re needing,” Tate said.
As far as the supply of N95 respirators and surgical masks go, CCH is doing OK, but “we do not have enough to go off of conservation mode,” Tate said.
Isolation gowns are still hard to come by, Tate said. Hospital board member Ronda Boller and the UW extension office are researching different fabrics that would work well for a reusable gown, and if they find one that works, they hope to reach out to the community to help make the gowns.
Robertson said she’s preparing for another type of surge.
“It’s predicted we’ll have a surge of mental health needs as people become more stressed in this crisis,” she said, adding that she doesn’t know how big that surge will be, or when it will happen.
The Wyoming Behavioral Institute and the state hospital both have a shortage of beds, so CCH is receiving patients from areas they normally don’t see.
Behavioral health units are at a high risk of an outbreak because they’re structured like jails, with groups of people confined into one space, Robertson said.
“We need to make sure we’re keeping our behavioral health safe,” she added.
That department was one of the first to implement telehealth services during the pandemic. Now all of CCH’s departments have that capability.
“I think if there’s any silver lining to this event, it’s that in a month we have put all our services on telehealth,” said board trustee Adrian Gerrits.
When all of this is over, people will be more comfortable with telehealth and doing things remotely, he added.
It is possible because CCH employees have been willing to work together, said CEO Andy Fitzgerald.
“We’ve seen a collegiality among our medical staff,” he said.
Doctors have had to collaborate on “really difficult subjects,” making adjustments and sacrifices for the good of the organization. While the hospital’s revenue picture is suffering because of the coronavirus, in other ways it’s helping CCH become a stronger organization, Fitzgerald said.
“I think in the long term, there are some very good things that will come out of this.”