Cars continue to line up around the Frederick Health medical offices as people looked to get tested for COVID-19.
The drive thru testing provided by the hospital, even on Saturday, is one service the hospital is providing to the community during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. But the hospital is also preparing for ways the new disease will affect the health care system.
Supplies, like masks, are adequate but tight, said Dr. Manny Casiano, chief medical officer. The hospital looks at the amount of masks and gowns every day, he said, adding that if those types of supplies run low, the hospital will have to limit or stop the drive thru testing.
The hospital is approaching the pandemic with a “whole system effort,” between taking care of patients at the hospital and the drive thru testing.
When it comes to staffing, the hospital is doing OK, Casiano said. That’s in part because they stopped elective surgeries. They also stopped X-ray services and routine lab services, and the staff there will be redeployed to areas of need. They are also limiting office hours in some practices.
“The offices are trying to do as much as possible,” Casiano said. “Video treatment to people at home or telephone calls or follow up at home rather than having people come in, so that lowers the staff requirements. So every day we're evaluating our staff in terms of folks who are not busy today, where can we redeploy them?”
If the hospital staffing becomes tight, there are contingency plans, he said.
When it comes to testing staff, the hospital is using the same testing protocol for staff as they do others looking to get tested. They need to have symptoms, such as a fever, cough and shortness of breath, while also having travel, recent contact with someone who has the disease or a comorbidity, like an underlying medical condition, Casiano said.
The hospital is not cancelling the elective surgeries but rather postponing them. This includes outpatient facilities, as well, Casiano said. In addition to freeing up staff, it allows the hospital to have more ventilators, which can be necessary in treating COVID-19.
“So for someone who is having a once-a-year routine procedure, fine, we'll put that off a month or two,” Casiano said. “If someone's got a suspicion for cancer, we're certainly not going to put that off. If someone needs treatment for an acute problem, we don't put that off.”
Right now the hospital has an adequate supply of ventilators, but “it’s tight,” he said. They ordered an additional 10 more, which will make their supply OK, if they come in. The hospital is also coordinating with outpatient surgery facilities to see if they can use their ventilators.
The hospital is also preparing for a surge in the number of people who will need hospital facilities. On any given day, about 12 to 16 beds of the hospital’s 18 bed ICU are occupied, he said. That means with more COVID-19 cases, there will need to be more beds because the patients who have strokes, heart attacks and other medical emergencies still need to be treated.
While Frederick County only has one confirmed case of COVID-19, the numbers are expected to rise, especially as more people are tested.
“Every other country that's done extensive testing has found a lot of cases, including people who never knew they had it,” Casiano said. “So, I expect throughout the United States, we're going to see the same thing that the number of cases is going to jump dramatically. Not because there are new people being infected, it's just now we're testing and finding out that this person who had a headache for two days, well, you know what it was actually COVID.”