As the numbers of coronavirus cases rise, hospitals are finding themselves overwhelmed with patients.
Guadalupe Regional Medical Center administrators said in a recent news release that they’ve had double the number of patients come in for tests with an increased positivity rate and have seen a jump in COVID-19 positive patients admitted to the hospital.
“Emergency department visits for flu and/or COVID-like illness have tripled over the prior week,” the release stated. “In one 48-hour-period, hospitalization numbers doubled. GRMC is definitely being challenged as the need for inpatient care has rapidly increased.”
Hospital personnel noted that not all of the patients were Guadalupe County residents.
On Saturday, the hospital reported 26 COVID-19 patients. By Monday morning, that number had risen to 32, GRMC Chief Executive Officer Robert Haynes said.
The hospital is continuously monitoring the coronavirus situation, and is making adjustments in staffing and equipment as needed, Haynes said.
“It requires a lot of staffing changes a lot of use of PPE (personal protective equipment) and protocols that are established that have to be followed,” he said. “We meet seven days a week — the senior team and department managers during this COVID crisis. We have a workforce of about 800 people. You redistribute that workforce as needed by design and you schedule out two to three days.”
Hospital administrators expect the surge to last about three to four weeks, and are planning the best they can with the constant changes. Part of that is seeking contract employees — namely nurses — to help assist in taking care of patients.
Among the challenges the hospital faces is ensuring it is compensating while members of its own staff are out due to the coronavirus, Rhonda Unruh, GRMC vice president of quality, said.
It is an issue the hospital and area businesses face, Unruh said.
“This is in the community,” she said. “Our employees as well as employees from many other businesses have been affected by illness and so that does affect our staffing. Trying to move people around to get the right number of people to staff these beds in addition to the right skill mix is something we have to look
at every single day and fill in the gaps for all of the people that can’t work for a period of time.”
The COVID-19 positive patients require isolation and GRMC has two dedicated units created to treat the patients — a COVID-19 unit and a COVID-19 ICU.
In April, GRMC identified the former Outpatient Surgical Center as a potential site to help support the hospital in the event of a surge of COVID-19 positive patients.
Haynes said opening the site to patients is a last resort option. In the event the hospital reaches beyond its capacity of COVID patients, the Outpatient Surgical Center will open as a secondary hospital for non-COVID patients, Haynes said.
Opening the center is not as easy as opening the doors, which is why the hospital hopes it doesn’t make it to that point, Haynes said.
“What happens when you do something like that, you have to duplicate a hospital and everything that a hospital requires, from IT (information technology) to pharmacy to the utilization of the information systems — everything,” he said. “We can do it, but it is not something you do unless you absolutely have to.”
GRMC faces similar issues as other regional hospitals when it comes to seeing a surge of patients.
Unruh said the community can help the hospitals by reducing the amount of exposure and stopping the spread.
“We need you to stay home. If you do have to go into the public, please wear your mask,” she said. “Make sure you are socially distancing as much as possible and performing proper hygiene. And really, all of these measures that we were performing in March and April before this really hit us, that is what we need people to do right now. Otherwise, we’re just going to continue seeing these cases go up and up and up.”
Haynes thanked the community for heeding the advice of medical professionals in slowing the spread. He also applauded his staff for their continued work during this pandemic.
“I’m very proud of the people that work in this organization on how they have responded to this challenge,” he said.