A few weeks ago, in a small rural American community, there was a funeral for a retired janitor. The town where the deceased janitor lived, worked, and was buried is located in a rural area about an hour’s drive to three larger metropolitan areas.
The community has historically sought its health care at a local hospital with deep roots built on a premise of providing quality care to its neighbors by its neighbors.
The funeral services for the former janitor were attended by family and friends who shared fond stories of the deceased, remembering the “good times they had together.” It was a festive remembrance of life for sure.
A few short weeks later, the small rural community was devastated as nearly 600 people fell ill with COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus. The community hospital was over-run by illness secondary to interactions from the janitor’s funeral.
The six-month supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) ran out in less than a week. The 24 medical ICU beds were full within the first two days of patients presenting to the hospital. The surgical ICU and cardiac ICU’s 24 combined beds were full within another few days. The entire hospital ran out of beds in short order and was forced to transfer 40 patients within a 72-hour period.
Healthcare providers fell ill too; due to lack of available staff, those who had tested positive for the illness, but were without symptoms, were asked to continue providing care to those who were more ill. A total of 24 citizens in this rural community have died from the illness which predominantly effects the respiratory system.
The community was devastated and its local health system was unable to mount hurdles to provide adequate care.
For certain, this could have been a story of Wilmington, Ohio.
But in fact, it is the very real story of Albany, Georgia. This story really occurred, and it happened just 11 days ago.
Clinton Memorial Hospital has been preparing for COVID-19 for more than a month now. Our COVID-19 Response Team has met regularly and frequently to address as many aspects of preparedness in anticipation of a surge of patients. We have been screening individuals prior to entering the hospital facilities in hopes of identifying an infected individual before they are able to spread illness to other healthcare providers and patients.
Areas of the hospital have been identified to provide designated care for COVID-19 patients. We have conserved our PPE supplies while making sure that our staff have the necessary masks, gowns, and gloves they need to protect themselves and to provide safe care. We have ordered and anticipate more PPE supplies in the near future as well.
We have been constrained by a very limited supply of COVID-19 test kits despite efforts to obtain more – similar to many hospitals in Ohio, but we have continued to follow CDC guidelines for testing those individuals who will benefit most from the results of the test.
CMH leaders across all departments have participated in sequential mock drills focused on a surge of patients seeking care in short order – where will extra hospital beds be placed, how we will provide necessary care especially for those who need oxygen therapy for breathing, these and many more questions are being addressed – actively.
We are striving to prepare for the tsunami as best we can.
I’m asking you – yes, the people of Wilmington and our surrounding communities — help us help you.
How can you help? Please stay home. Stay home today, stay home tomorrow, and please stay home for the next four weeks.
I understand, it’s not fun, it’s frustrating … it’s just plain boring. I get it. But I also know that we need your help to lessen the impact this illness may very likely have on all of us.
When CMH is strained, so too are you; our community, our families, our friends. We want to provide the high-quality care we strive to provide every day.
Let Albany be the reality check.
Do your part to keep us from being the next Albany.
Dr. Brian J. Santin is Chief Medical Officer of Clinton Memorial Hospital and Vascular Surgeon at Ohio Vein & Vascular, Inc. firstname.lastname@example.org .