More than a few people have asked over the past couple of weeks how long it took us to prepare for the Coronavirus. Depending on how you think about it, we have been preparing for decades.
When you are a 25-bed Critical Access Hospital in one of the most rural parts of the country, the one thing you get used to is change. Dating back to the days when we were just a small county hospital, we have been learning to adapt to the circumstances and roll with the punches.
Our infection control nurse, Ashley Williams, RN, started following the COVID-19 virus since the first outbreaks in China late last year – well before the first cases were reported in Washington state in mid-January. She’s been working with our hospital leadership to develop a plan of action throughout the pandemic.
Immediately after the first case was reported in Mississippi on March 11th, we set up screening tables outside the Sunflower Rural Health Clinic. We were able to assess patients before they entered the building. This protected our facilities from infection as we determined which patients needed to be quarantined.
Over the past two weeks, we have established a drive-thru screening unit in tents outside the hospital. This allows us to screen patients without leaving their car – providing care while continuing to protect our North Sunflower healthcare heroes.
Last week, we opened an isolated COVID unit within the hospital. That allows us to have ten beds designated for treating those patients in isolation. The unit has dedicated nurses that work exclusively with COVID positive patients. Employees that work in that unit enter through a completely separate entrance. The employees that work in the rest of the hospital never come into contact with that particular unit. At the end of the day, the doctors and nurses working in our COVID unit take those scrubs off before they go home and return to their clothes that they had worn to work that morning.
We're really trying our best to be able to protect the safety of our employees as well as the patients.
We also have also established three negative pressure rooms. These rooms are dedicated to true presumptive COVID patients who are vulnerable to the virus. This includes any nursing home patients that come into the hospital, people with respiratory issues or anyone that has a condition that would make them more susceptible to complications from viruses.
As a critical access hospital, we do not have an ICU, and we do not treat patients on ventilators. We do function well within our capabilities to care for COVID patients to the point where they are sent home. And if we need to transfer someone, there are a number of nearby hospitals that do.
Our health care professionals are working tirelessly through this pandemic and we really think of them as heroes. Last week we took the time to thank them and pray for their safety. Last week we held a caravan of prayer around Ruleville. The NSMC administration drove through downtown in a caravan led by pastor Charles Young. The caravan ended on the north side of our campus where employees with red ribbons gathered in a circle – each person standing six feet apart. We joined in prayer for the safety of our family members caring for COVID patients.
The Caravan of Prayer with NSMC Administration, the Ruleville Police Department, DME, Hospice of NSMC, NSMC Pharmacy, & the Ruleville Fire Department.
Together with a number of exceptional hospitals, we are flattening the curve here in the Delta. We are able to do so based on sound guidance given to us by the Mississippi Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control – and the tireless work of all our healthcare heroes! But also, we are able to sustain this crisis thanks to the culture our leadership instilled in this hospital, and their encouragement to rise to meet any challenge.