The Coronavirus pandemic has upended everyone’s lives. It’s forced people to make drastic alterations to their daily activities and reform their routines. However, some may wonder about the people and places that act as our last line of defense: hospitals and health workers. The severity of the pandemic has forced the healthcare system to make fast and effective changes to protect patients and professionals with no room for error. What has the transition looked like, and how has it impacted life in the field? I sat down with Dr. Kerry Owens, a nephrologist at Integris Baptist Medical Center to gain insight.
How has protocol changed in the hospital as far as entrance and patient care procedure? Has your work been made less efficient?
It hasn’t become less efficient, but anything elective has been put on hold. A screening procedure upon entrance involves answering questions regarding exposure and a temperature check, and everyone who enters the hospital undergoes this procedure. If a patient is not suspected of having the virus, the protocol for treatment is as usual. If one is suspected, then they’re cared for using gloves and masks 一 precautionary measures like that.
Are the COVID-19-positive patients kept in a separate wing? What does the protocol for their care look like?
Those patients are kept on a separate floor with its own ICU and general medical floor. Their rooms are commonly occupied by TB patients and engineered to have negative airflow. That means that air flows into their room but does not escape. These patients are of course not allowed to have visitors (as are all other patients).
How are healthcare workers dealing with the shortage of supplies?
At Baptist, there isn’t much of a shortage, and we’re only using PPE around COVID-19-positive patients, so we’re not using supplies unnecessarily (i.e. with non-COVID-19 patients).
What should be done about this shortage?
We need to continue getting private business [making supplies in the US] to repurpose factories and produce supplies, instead of relying upon imports, while in this dire need of supplies.
What are specialized centers (i.e. dialysis units, nursing homes, etc.) doing? Does care at these places differ from hospitals?
The care is very similar. Each patient is screened before treatment and wear masks, and the staff is always equipped with PPE. Patients with the virus are redirected to another unit and all treated there to minimize exposure and spread to other patients.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Thankfully, working in the hospital has not changed as much as my private practice, unless you’re on the designated COVID-19 floor.
Any final thoughts?
During these times, everyone should be paying attention to coronavirus, but it’s important that we don’t place other illnesses like pneumonia, heart disease, and other common health issues on the back burner. In other words, the presence of ordinary ailments has not been deterred by coronavirus, and this is something hospitals have been forced to be conscious of and balance. [COVID-19] is something that’s been added to our radar, not overtaken it.
Overall, the changes that healthcare centers have undergone can be seen as accommodations for coronavirus, not reconstruction. These accommodations have involved creativity, as well as the versatility of equipment, such as ICU features like negative airflow. It’s apparent that medical centers are doing everything they can to continue normally with non-COVID-19 patients and trying their best to conserve supplies when able, while operating with caution regarding positive patients. Specialized centers like dialysis units are taking preventative measures to protect their patients, all of whom are considered to be at a greater risk for coronavirus.
The transition that healthcare centers have been forced to make has been a major one, and their ability to quickly adapt to this unprecedented obstacle to modern medicine while effectively treating patients is truly admirable. It’s important that people realize the challenges our masked heroes are facing and recognize their perseverance through the dangers of being on the front, as well as the flexibility with which they’ve approached the situation and the change in routine. It’s also important to acknowledge the fact that coronavirus has not shifted the focus of our hospitals, but has expanded it, as they cannot place treatment of other health issues on hold. The insight that I’ve gained has shone a new light on healthcare workers who, despite the risk and even lack of supplies, work tirelessly to combat coronavirus and fight for our wellbeing.