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11th case of COVID-19 confirmed in Clark; Hospital says it’s well-equipped to care for patients

The Clark County Health Department confirmed the 11th case of the coronavirus in Clark County.

The latest person to get the respiratory disease is a 73-year-old woman, according to a press release sent just after 4 p.m. Thursday.

The chief of staff of Clark Regional Medical Center believes the local hospital is about as prepared as it can be for the coronavirus.

LifePoint Health, which owns the Winchester hospital, won’t allow medical staff to say whether any of the confirmed coronavirus cases in Clark County as of Wednesday have been admitted to the hospital as patients because of company policy and strict interpretation of federal medical privacy law.

However, Dr. Rebecca Bartee, a surgeon and chief of staff for the hospital, said Wednesday she is confident the hospital is doing what it can to be ready in the event it does have several COVID-19 patients.

Both in terms of medical staff and hospital capacity, she said, she believes Clark Regional is ready.

“I feel very prepared to take care of whatever comes our way. We thought ahead, like every facility should be doing,” she said, and added that she is “proud of the work we’ve done behind the scenes to prepare for this,” as well as “other eventualities.”

“I think nobody knows what we’re going to get,” she added.

Bartee said like all hospitals, Clark Regional has partnerships with other health care facilities to which it can transfer patients “if someone is so ill that they can’t stay here.”

The hospital transfers some patients now to the University of Kentucky Hospital and other hospitals, and has good working relationships with them, she said.

“We’ve got fantastic staff here who are keeping abreast of any developments and are making changes accordingly,” she said.

Bartee said she tells other health care providers that the “anticipatory anxiety” of what might happen can be more stressful than working hard and taking care of patients.

In late March, Pro Publica, a nonprofit newsroom that partners with newspapers and other media, cited a Harvard Global Health Institute study that indicated where in the country hospitals could be most stressed by a spike in coronavirus cases.

In the best-case scenario, if 20 percent of adults were infected over 18 months, most hospitals in the greater Lexington region could generally handle those patients. In the worst case, in which 60 percent were infected over six months, most area hospitals would be overwhelmed, requiring between 250 and 300 percent of current bed capacity.

Rural hospitals, the report suggests, may fare better than those in big cities because they would have fewer cases.

Because of the coronavirus threat, Clark Regional Medical Center has changed many of the ways it operates.

Weeks ago, it canceled or postponed all elective surgery and is only doing emergency procedures.

It has strictly limited public access to the building and has prohibited visitors and access to the building by those attending patients with few exceptions, such as parents of children, spouses of women giving birth and caregivers of those receiving end-of-life care. Even those, however, must be screened for symptoms.

Hospital staff are socially isolating to the extent possible and conserving personal protective equipment.

A few days ago, LifePoint made an appeal for donations of N95 respirator masks, nitrile surgical gloves, gowns and other personal protective equipment or PPE.

Bartee said the hospital is not low on those supplies for now, but would like to have more in the event they should need it.

“You can never be over-prepared for something like this, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.

Bridget Foster, a spokeswoman for LifePoint Health, said the hospital won’t say how many ventilators it has “because it’s so fluid.”

“We are reporting those numbers daily to our partners and government agencies to help guide and support capacity planning and supply chain decisions across the state,” she said.

All she would say is that “CRMC does have some available.”

Bartee said that some places across the country and around the world “were not remotely prepared and did not have what they needed, and I think some places still don’t have.”

But Kentucky is doing a better job than most states in ordering public places closed and getting the message out about the necessity of social isolating in order to flatten the curve of rising COVID-19 cases.

She said she is particularly impressed with how the governor is handling the situation.

Bartee said there is nowhere patients can be routinely tested for the coronavirus in Winchester or Clark County, and if they come down with mild symptoms, they should stay home and treat their symptoms. If their condition worsens, they should contact their doctor, and if necessary, go to the emergency room.

The staff at Clark Regional are familiar with viral illnesses, but what is so different about this one, Bartee said, is the wide spectrum of symptoms, from mild cold- or flu-like conditions to severe or terminal respiratory sickness. Most people who get it have a mild case and recover. Others end up on a ventilator, yet die.

“That’s what’s very disturbing about this virus,” she said.

Bartee said one of the hardest things for her and other staff members is that because of the social distancing rules, they can’t give each other a hug or a comforting hand on a shoulder when a colleague is going through a hard time. Clark Regional’s employees are like a family, she said, and it’s hard to have to be supportive from a distance.

Yet, she is impressed with how they are holding up in this crisis.

“I’m amazed at the resiliency of these people, and especially the people on the front lines … the people that are in the ER. The people that are on the floors, in the ICU, just taking care of everybody,” she said. “But we’ve done it for a long time.”

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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