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Hospitals in Mississippi innovate for comprehensive COVID-19 response

ERIC McVEY

By BECKY GILLETTE

Hospitals in Mississippi have been proactive working to address the largest public health emergency in a little more than 100 years. Some of the innovative things medical providers have been doing in Mississippi to prepare for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) include the University of Mississippi Medical Center inventing a ventilator than can be built from $50 with easily available parts like a garden hose and a lamp timer, and hospitals coming up with technology to decontaminate and reuse N95 respirator masks critical to helping protect healthcare workers.

Both ventilators and personal protection equipment (PPE) such as masks and gowns have been in short supply nationwide as the number of cases in the U.S. had grown to 644,704 with 28,486 deaths as of April 15. Mississippi has seen 3,624 cases with 129 deaths in Mississippi. The largest number of cases were in the higher population areas: Hinds County, DeSoto County, Jackson County, Madison County, Harrison County and Bolivar Counties.

About 30 percent of those testing positive have been hospitalized. Deaths were most common in people more than 60 years old.

St. Dominic Hospital Chief Medical Officer Eric McVey, M.D., Jackson, said as the number of cases continues to rise in the state, St. Dominic’s continues to prepare to meet the evolving needs of the people and communities they serve through surge planning, collaboration with state health officials and fellow hospitals, and innovation in numerous areas to address the many challenges unique to this crisis.

ALAN HODGES

“St. Dominic’s has taken a number of steps to ensure our hospital remains as safe an environment as possible for our patients, team members and community,” said McVey, an infectious disease expert. “We are certainly facing the same supply chain challenges as hospitals across the country, but our team continues to identify and explore new avenues for acquisition of needed materials.”

One such innovation includes the development of a process using Xenex UV robot technology to disinfect N95 masks for reuse up to five times. McVey said these robots, also used throughout the hospital, use UV light to quickly destroy all major classes of organisms including viruses, bacteria and bacterial spores without contact or chemicals. “This process is enabling us to maximize the use of this valuable PPE resource,” he said.

St. Dominic Medical Associates and MEA Medical Clinic physicians are visiting with patients via telehealth as well as facilitating COVID-19 symptom consultation and testing through dedicated sites in the tri-county areas.

Caitlyn Thompson, director of marketing, growth & outreach, Bolivar Medical Center, said very day, every hour, every minute is fluid when it comes to supplies.

“Bolivar Medical Center currently has a stable supply of gowns, masks and gloves,” Thompson said. “However, we are accepting donations of unused and handmade medical and protective supplies and equipment. This move is part of Bolivar Medical Center’s ongoing efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for increased needs of PPE, which healthcare providers across the nation are experiencing. We recently issued a press release with the items we can accept, and it is accessible at bolivarmedical.com. These handmade items would be used in the event that we were to deplete our medical-grade stock of PPE.”

Like other hospitals across the county, Bolivar Medical Center has taken precautionary steps to help ensure the safety of patients, employees and visitors that include restricting visitors, closing common areas, limiting entry points, performing screenings per CDC guidelines, supplying PPE as appropriate, transferring non-clinical staff to working from home and implementing telemedicine appointments at their clinics.

Ochsner Medical Center–Hancock continues to treat COVID-19 patients both through the hospital’s regular bed capacity and critical care bed capacity. Those numbers continue to fluctuate each week.

Alan E. Hodges, CEO, Ochsner Medical Center-Hancock, Bay St. Louis, said they have opened a respiratory care testing clinic on their hospital campus to screen patients for COVID-19 testing.

Hodges said at this time, Ochsner Health System has been well supplied with PPE and ventilators.

“We continue to plan for the future as well, and have a 2-tier ICU surge plan should the demand for ICU beds increase,” Hodges said. “I am very proud to lead such a dynamic and passionate team of healthcare professionals during this very unusual and challenging time. They are truly heroes, and they are making a difference every day in the lives of our patients and the community.”

Chas Pierce, Gulfport Memorial Hospital senior director, system development, said they are currently treating three COVID patients at Memorial.

“We have sufficient supply of ventilators,” Pierce said. “Currently, all staff entering the hospital are required to wear a surgical or cloth mask. If a staff member is going into a suspected or positive COVID patient room, they are required to wear all proper PPE which includes a gown, a surgical mask or N95 mask, eye protection, face shield, and gloves. We have an adequate supply of all PPE.”

Timothy H. Moore, president/CEO, Mississippi Hospital Association​​​, said MHA continues to work to help procure additional personal protective equipment for state hospitals and lobby for additional financial support so the hospitals can keep their doors open to continue caring for their communities.

“In sourcing PPE for hospitals, we have found some trying to take advantage of this crisis by gouging prices for masks, ventilators, and other equipment needed,” Moore said. “We continue to call on the state and federal government to aggressively pursue those wrongdoers. They are putting health care worker and patient lives at risk.”

In addition, MHA is are working to make sure all Mississippians understand and appreciate the sacrifices and dedication displayed by nurses, doctors, and all other healthcare workers during this crisis.

“They are caring for COVID-19 patients while continuing to care for patients battling other conditions and traumatic injuries – all while preparing for an expected surge of COVID-19 patients,” Moore said. “We appreciate all of the businesses that have stepped up to help with donations and to say thank you. We encourage all in Mississippi communities to join those efforts.”

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About Becky Gillette