By Carla Bumstead
Eaton Rapids Medical Center (ERMC) made the decision to approach the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak with directness, honesty and transparency.
“Our Incident Command Team (ICT) went into action weeks ago,” said ERMC spokesperson Lindsay Peters. “We had the sense that there were some people out there that didn’t think the coronavirus would get to Eaton Rapids, but it is here and it is serious.”
ERMC’s president and CEO Tim Johnson announced yesterday, in a letter to the community, that the hospital had two confirmed cases of COVID-19 and that that number is expected to rise in the coming weeks.
“We are not unique, and we are not immune,” Peters said. “What you are seeing and hearing on the news about COVID-19 applies to everyone, including all of us here in Eaton Rapids.
“We want people to understand that, when they see the health department reporting eight cases in Eaton County, two of those cases are right here.”
Peters explained that the two cases confirmed at ERMC are not currently hospitalized and that ERMC is not planning to continue to directly report confirmed cases to the public in the coming weeks.
“We report everything directly to the Barry-Eaton District Health Department (BEDHD), and they are the ones responsible for reporting numbers,” she said. “We just want to make sure people understand that those numbers do include us.”
For now, ERMC expects to transfer COVID-19 positive cases to other, larger facilities. In return, ERMC is poised to take in non-COVID-19 patients, should extra beds be needed.
ERMC is testing for COVID-19 only when a patient meets specific guidelines. Those who are tested have their tests sent out to the state and other available labs for analysis. Because test results are currently taking seven to 12 days to come back, the number of local confirmed cases is definitely expected to rise.
Peters explained the long turn-around time for results is due to a backlog at the state lab level.
“We don’t have the capacity to do in-house testing, and we send everything out to the state or other labs. We expect to see the turnaround time improve, as everyone is working on ramping up testing capabilities. We are looking into other testing options that may be available.”
Monitoring of patients who are not hospitalized is handled by BEDHD.
Need to screen
The bulk of the COVID-19-related work currently going on at ERMC involves ensuring the safety of patients being treated for other medical needs and its own staff.
Barbara Parrott, RN, is the medical center’s infection prevention and control manager. She stressed that ERMC’s effectiveness relies heavily on teamwork.
“We have a great team working well together around the clock to help mitigate our risks and keep one another and our community safe,” Parrott said.
Just because COVID-19 is causing major disruptions doesn’t mean the community’s other medical needs can be put on hold.
“We have a duty to take care of our community, and that is exactly what we are doing,” Peters said. “People are still going to have heart attacks and accidents and will need our services.”
In order to limit any possible spread of COVID-19 by people coming into ERMC facilities, all those wishing to enter the hospital must first stop at a screening tent located outside of the Emergency and Redicare entrances. Large signs are in place to clearly direct people where to go. In addition, except for very specific circumstances, visitors are not allowed.
PHOTO INFO: ERMC’s Tammy Schafer, dressed in a lovely teal gown, is shown inside the mandatory check-in tent in front of Redicare. Redicare is located at 1500 S. Main St., Entrance C.
Peters said that, at first, the public often didn’t seem to understand the need for all the extra precautions.
“But we have really noticed a change. At first, we had some people who were upset and frustrated about the inconvenience. But over the past week or so, we’ve noticed a lot more understanding and appreciation of what we are trying to do.”
As far as ERMC staff is concerned, Peters said it is obviously a stressful time.
“People are concerned, and it is ok to be concerned. We all think about the possibility of bringing this home to our families, but we also feel better if we are busy doing something.”
ERMC has instituted a number of steps aimed at closely monitoring staff health. All staff are required to take their temperature twice a day at least eight hours apart.
“They also take their temperature right before entering any building, and if they have a fever or symptoms they are sent right home. And we have been sending out a lot of wellness information to staff — things like how to talk to their children about COVID-19, stress management resources, workout videos and daycare options.”
PHOTO INFO: Chris Sebastian and Josh Leask are shown on duty at the ERMC employee screening tent.
Incident Command Team
The ICT consists of the ERMC executive management team along with the addition of an infection prevention and control specialist, a supply manager and a physician.
All emergency facilities and organizations around the nation are required to have a complete plan for emergencies and to regularly practice a wide variety of emergency scenarios. Pandemics are one of the many emergencies on the scenario list, and ERMC was ready when it came time to put its pandemic emergency plan into action, for real.
Peters said that by the second week in March, it had become clear to ICT members that the COVID-19 situation would require team activation.
“We had been getting information (on the outbreak) for quite a while, but by early March it became clear we were going to be facing a serious situation. Since then, the Incident Command Team hasn’t had a day off … we knew what was going to happen but just didn’t exactly how or when.”
The team was officially activated on March 13, and it has been an almost non-stop series of new information, new mandates and new challenges.
“We are in constant communication with each other, constantly gathering new information, answering questions from staff, responding to new mandates and working with many other organizations from all around the area. The amount of paperwork alone is immense.”
Of utmost importance
Peters said the most important thing for the community to know and understand about the current COVID-19 situation is that all the guidelines and rules are essential for everyone’s safety.
She urges all Eaton Rapids area residents to listen to the experts on the best ways to prevent the spread of infection, to stay home as much as possible and to follow all social distancing and hand-washing guidelines if one does have to go out.
ERMC’s website, at eatonrapidsmedicalcenter.org, has a special COVID-19 notice on its main page. Clicking on that notice will bring up a page with full information on how to protect yourself and others. It also offers links to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) website and the CDC.
“If someone does need to come in to see us for medical treatment, we are here for them and simply ask that they follow our procedures in order to keep everyone safe.”
ALL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY ERMC.
Main photo – ERMC Emergency Department employees Dr. John Fata; Jolynne Smith, RN; Emily Willinger, RN; and Heather Sholty, MA, are shown sporting goggles donated by Eaton Rapids Public Schools.