CAH seeks to find 'our new normal'

CAH seeks to find ‘our new normal’

By: DANIEL WINNINGHAM

Enquirer~Democrat managing editor

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every industry, though by now many businesses are moving toward more normalized operations. Carlinville Area Hospital continues working toward re-opening, getting back to a service level closer to what was in place earlier this year.

“In the beginning, we had to go into our incident command mode, which is part of our emergency preparedness, and we closed several services, limited services, but now by mid-May, we started to get everything up and running and we’re back open,” said Tracy Koster, CAH human relations manager. “It had a lot of effects. We had to change things. We had to find a new normal.”

Initially, the hospital had screeners outside, checking individuals prior to entry. Now, screeners are meeting with patients inside the hospital, near the front entrance.

Koster said it’s a case of “finding our new normal and what that means for the future.”

Masks are still required for all those entering the hospital.

“Our workers wear masks and anybody, once they enter and have been screened, they have to wear a mask,” Koster said. “They can bring their own or we can give them one. Everybody in the building wears a mask.”

That will continue for the foreseeable future, according to Koster.

“It’ll be ongoing, that’ll be up to CDC and IDPH,” Koster said. “We’re following all of their regulations.”

Koster pointed out masks will be around through the first four phases of the governor’s reopen plan.

“I don’t know that the masks really go away until phase 5, when a cure or vaccine is announced,” Koster said. “I don’t think we’re anticipating that the masks will go away until we get clearance from CDC and IDPH and for that state of Illinois, that’s probably phase 5.”

To this point, there have been no positive cases at CAH. Koster said the low case number countywide could perhaps be credited to residents embracing the public health steps announced by state and local officials.

“Maybe one of the reasons that our area has seen low cases is because of the steps people have taken,” Koster said.

As of June 19, the hospital has tested more than 250 individuals at the hospital, with no positives

The total positive count for Macoupin County was 47 cases, which Koster said is a low number

“The things that you have in place, such as the stay at home (order), social distancing, the masks, the goal of all of that was to reduce the number of cases or to spread it out to flatten that curve so to speak,” Koster noted. “I absolutely think that these things have helped that and that’s why they remain in place and will continue to remain in place.”

Koster said Macoupin County residents and those in surrounding areas listened to the advice of medical officials and followed the recommended measures to deal with the pandemic.

“As a whole, I think the community did well,” she said. “The pandemic changed everybody’s lives, and so it’s hard for change and to change your daily routine. How it looks going to the grocery store, all of a sudden you can’t go to restaurants. Kids are e-learning. That was some tough changes. Overall, I think the community did a good job. They understood it, they got it. It was tough for people and maybe not everyone willing did it but at the end of the day they did what they needed to do.”

Since the pandemic began there have been 49 confirmed cases as of June 19, with a total of 3,909 tested, according to the Macoupin County Public Health Department. Four total deaths have been reported (one man in his 80s, two men in their 60s and one female in her 40s).

Elective surgeries were cancelled from mid-March through early May.  In addition, the CAH specialty clinic completely closed  during that same time.

“We cancelled everything during that time, unless emergent or urgent,” said Carol Labby, the hospital’s infection prevention practitioneer/employee health/education coordinator

Most (surgery) cases are elective, and include operations such as cataract surgeries, EGD, colonascopy, Labby said.

Oftentimes, these are procedures are done by gastrointestinal specialists.

Labby said a siren memo was released by the state and provided guidance about elective surgeries began May 11.

“We did very few procedures during that time and we followed IDPH guidelines, with only urgent or emergent (procedures),” she said.

Early on, the CAH rehab therapy went to acute patients only and the Girard rural health clinic closed (reopened June 1).

The Carlinville rural health clinic stayed open but on a limited basis.

For those with perceived COVID-19 symptoms, there was a designated respiratory area at the hospital. They were tested and given treatment as applicable, according to Labby.

A nurse practitioner or physician oversaw the activity in the respiratory area.

“We tried to limit the number of physicians and staff exposed to COVID,” Labby said.

Measures were taken to limit travel within the hospital.

For patients screened prior to entry, those with a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or greater or other perceived COVID-19symptoms, they are not allowed into hospital, abd must call their physician for further instruction, or the health department.

COVID testing required for surgery patients

All surgery patients must be COVID tested and one visitor now allowed, as of June 12.

“Things change so rapidly,” Koster said, noting an announcement of a change in procedure or service may be modified a couple days later, or within a week.

“We’re just trying to do that slow reopening to make sure everybody stays safe,” Koster said.

Initially, those having surgery were not permitted a visitor. Discharge instructors were given to the patient and their driver.

As of June 19, Labby said the hospital was about at 80 percent of its normal surgery load.

“There are still some patients who do not want to be tested for COVID-19 72 hours prior or do not want to self-quarantine prior to surgery,” Labby said. “We’re close to doing the  number of surgeries we were before.

Earlier this month, the hospital’s visitor restrictions were revised.

One person can be in the waiting room during the duration of a procedure as well as the emergency room, Labby said.