St. Bernards Healthcare Preparing for Increased COVID-19 Cases and Fall Flu Season

Jul 29, 2020

Credit Arkansas Department of Health

For KASU News, I’m Johnathan Reaves.  Area hospitals are bracing for the unknown as COVID-19 cases climb statewide.  With the fall approaching, there is a concern about COVID-19 cases and a bad flu outbreak, which could put a strain on healthcare facilities.  How are preparations being made?  Today, I talk Angie Smith.  Smith is the Vice President of Nursing and Nursing Executive for the Medical Center at St. Bernards.  She gives an update on how things are right now.

“With the increasing number of cases in the state, we are seeing an increase in ER admissions, in ICU admissions, as well as regular patient volume,” said Smith.  “We have been preparing for this for quite some time and we have been talking about this.  This week is the first time that we have seen the heat from the whole pandemic.”

Smith says the first challenge was learning about COVID-19 when it came on the scene.  She tells what also has been challenging when dealing with COVID-19.

“There has been a lot of discussions of personal protective equipment, normal supplies that we need, and testing supplies have all been impacted.  There have been a lot of improvements on the supply chain and we have supplies right now to help us get through this initial wave and a second wave.  We are checking on what we have with supplies and what we need.”

The current situation at St. Bernards allows for use of 45 additional beds at the hospital as part of the surge plan.  There is now more space available at the hospital due to the additional construction that recently was completed at St. Bernards.  There is also a 46 bed intensive care unit that could be used if needed.  Smith says that if a COVID-19 outbreak rises significantly, there is room to add hundreds of additional hospital beds if needed for a worst case scenario situation.  She tells what St. Bernards would do if a massive outbreak was to happen:

“We have considered all options on campus and outside the walls if needed,” Smith says.  “Our surge plans change on a daily basis and so we constantly are in contact with our partners, the Arkansas Department of Health, and others to make the best decisions for our patients.”

She says an incident command center, or a triage center, would also be set up as a separate care area for sick patients. Some of the sickest patients with COVID-19 might need to be on a ventilator.  I asked Smith what would happen if they had so many sick patients that they ran out of ventilators, what would they do?  Here is Smith’s response:

“We have multiple ventilators on hand.  We added 20 ventilators when the pandemic started and we check on the status of the ventilators daily,” says Smith.  “Once we exceeded capacity, we have different types of devices that we could convert to ventilators in a safe and efficient matter if we needed too.  We share information with our partners and the state.  If one area is hit harder than others in our center, we can transfer equipment where needed very quickly.”

St. Bernards has daily meetings with staff and contacts the Arkansas Department of Health daily.  They meet with the Craighead County Office of Emergency Management on a weekly basis and also communicates with other hospitals in the region. She dispels the myth that COVID-19 is not as dangerous as it really is, or that COVID-19 is just the flu.

“This is not the flu,” says Smith.  “This is real.  We have not seen this before.  It has affected individuals in very different ways.  There used to be three symptoms when this started, and now those symptoms are a page long.  I have seen how it has affected individuals.  The deaths are real.  Fortunately the mortality rate is low, but everyone needs to take the recommendations very seriously.  Wear masks, wash hands, and practice social distancing.” 

That is Angie Smith with St. Bernards Healthcare.