Hospital preparing as cases climb

By: 
Alexis Barker

“We are reliant on the community. If the percentage of positives gets to a certain point in the community, the service area of Weston County, we may have to close down more. We are highly dependent on the community and if they continue to defy orders, not wear masks and not retain a low percentage of positives it is going to be even more detrimental to the residents.” 

 

— Maureen Cadwell, Weston County Health Services CEO 

 

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor

 

As cases of COVID-19 in the county, state and nation continue to rise, Weston County Health Services is doing everything it can to prepare the hospital for a potential increase in patients, according to CEO Maureen Cadwell. Despite a seemingly low number of confirmed cases in the community until the past few weeks, Cadwell said, the facility has been facing issues since the pandemic began and that there is no end in sight. 

Some of these issues, including access to testing and personal protective equipment, have been around since March when the pandemic first made its way to Wyoming, she said. But other issues, including having enough staff to fill the schedule, have only became a sore spot as the illness makes its way through the community, according to Cadwell. 

With known community spread and close contact quarantines on the rise, more and more hospital staff are unable to work because of state health orders and facility protocols surrounding illness that must be followed. Not only does COVID-19 impact the ability of staff to work, but other illnesses, including the cold or flu, can have employees out of work due to protocols for remaining home while ill. 

“We are struggling right now because we have staff that are out either with COVID-19 and/or they are related to a COVID-19 situation (having to quarantine as a probable case). We are struggling somewhat with staffing and filling shifts. We are getting it done, though, with a lot of our staff taking on overtime,” Cadwell said. “Thank goodness we have very dedicated staff that will do that. That is probably our biggest concern right now.” 

If the facility has a shortage of employees to fill shifts, Cadwell said, several levels of staffing solutions  are allowed in an emergency situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Besides having the ability to test employees that are “probable” cases due to their close contact with a known positive and bring them back to work despite public health quarantine orders, Cadwell said that the hospital and the Manor can call retired nurses or certified nursing assistants back to work without the  required background checks and paperwork. 

“We can bring those individuals on quickly so we can continue providing care. There are a lot of different levels involved in that plan,” Cadwell said. 

With the help of CARES Act funding from the state, Cadwell said, the hospital is preparing space in the basement that can be used for patient overflow. Additional funding will also be used to create two more negative-pressure rooms for isolation. 

“We are also able to move swing beds to the Manor to open up beds in the hospital as well,” Cadwell said. “Basically, each patient and each hour/day we would have to triage patients in a surge situation.” 

Besides preparing for a possible increase in patient load, Cadwell said, the facility and staff are continuing to navigate directives, rules and regulations as they are handed down from officials. 

“The other thing people don’t realize is that we have a lot of directives, rules and regulations that we have to follow or we jeopardize our certification with Medicare or Medicaid. If we aren’t following those and it gets to the point that we are deemed not certified, we will not get paid,” Cadwell said. “We can’t jeopardize that relationship. Financially, that would close the facility.” 

Since the end of May, the Manor has been surveyed by the state on three different occasions and has been fined for some deficiencies. 

“We can’t continue that, we have to follow those directives. We know (that) if (it) is tough on families and on the residents, it is tough on the staff too to see the residents lonely. But, all we can do is keep pushing so we don’t jeopardize the facility,” Cadwell said. 

As cases continue to climb, Cadwell said, the restrictions on the facility will continue to change and become more stringent. Currently, no visitors are allowed in the facility whether it is to visit hospital patients or residents at the manor, per state health orders addressing COVID-19. 

“We are reliant on the community. If the percentage of positives gets to a certain point in the community …, we may have to close down more. We are highly dependent on the community, and if they continue to defy orders, not wear masks and not retain a low percentage of positives, it is going to be even more detrimental to the residents,” Cadwell asserted. 

Cadwell said that access to supplies, including personal protective equipment, shields, masks and gowns for staff, has also been affected. The facility is continually looking for new suppliers and a steady stream of needed equipment, she said.

One thing that has improved since the pandemic began, according to Cadwell, is access to local testing with quick results. 

“One thing that has been nice is the new testing equipment we have received. We can have a result for any test that is run within 20 to 30 minutes,” Cadwell said. “The only issue is that we can only run one at a time and the tests take supplies that we don’t normally have, so finding those supplies has proved to be a challenge.” 

Cadwell said that quick testing at the facility is done on a first-come, first-served basis, only for those people who have symptoms. In addition to testing at local facilities, she said, Gov. Mark Gordon has implemented a statewide home testing program.

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