Over the past month, the city of Charleston as well as the rest of the country have been waiting for the peak in coronavirus cases. A new forecast made as part of MUSC’s Epidemiology Intelligence Project indicates that the number of cases originally predicted for Charleston will be much less partially due to successful social distancing. At this time, we do not anticipate the peak of patients to exceed MUSC Health’s capacity, and the hospital has adequate supplies needed to appropriately care for the potential influx of COVID-19 patients.
Because Charlestonians proactively took responsibility for the health of everyone else by social distancing, staying at home and being more considerate of others in your community, MUSC has not seen the impact of spread of the virus that other cities have. And now, we are able to reopen and start to see patients and provide the care and services needed.
In light of this new information, this past week has been filled with discussion among statewide taskforce members, like MUSC’s own President David Cole, M.D., FACS, around resuming normal activities, albeit in steps. As a result of seeing a successful flattening of the curve, we can safely open our hospital to patients with non-emergent surgeries and health emergencies unrelated to COVID-19. We are committed to the optimal health for our patients and our staff, and so leaders around the health system have been developing ways to help those in need while also protecting everyone involved.
Colleen Bridier, MSN-HCSM, MBA, RN, CIC, is the director of infection prevention and control at MUSC. Bridier is responsible for processes in preventing infections along with identifying, isolating and informing during emergency operations. She works closely with team leaders, Infection Prevention Medical Director Cassandra D. Salgado, M.D., MS, FIDSA, FSHEA, and Associate Hospital Epidemiologist Scott Curry, M.D. Together, they have been very involved in modifying, implementing and developing new and safe processes to serve our employees and community.
Bridier highlights the advantage MUSC has above other hospitals. In addition to having teams of subject matter experts in epidemiology, laboratory services and facility, it has in-house COVID-19 testing. “We can assure our health care team members and patients are safe, and receiving the best treatment possible, with immediate access to testing, and fast results,” she said.
In addition to more testing, Bridier says discussions with hospital leaders have centered on personal protective equipment for employees, controlling the number of people exposed to COVID-19 patients and keeping patients in safe treatment areas. Each employee practices self-monitoring by taking their own temperatures and going through a symptom checklist before work and before going to bed. Employees are encouraged to call in sick if needed and to use MUSC Virtual Care for their treatment.
The hospital system’s recovery plan also involves modifying many of procedures and processes:
While many health systems developed telehealth during this time as a way of implementing social distancing while also providing care for those that need, MUSC Health was already a national leader in telehealth. To date, we have seen almost 16,000 patients virtually, and we will continue to provide virtual care even after the wave of COVID-19 has passed. Patients who need care during this time are invited to go to Virtual Visits at MUSC Health to learn more about face-to-face video visits with our physicians.
Reduce, Decontaminate, Sterilize and Reuse
According to predictions from the Epidemiology Intelligence Project, MUSC has not seen the projected surge of infected patients. Therefore, MUSC has the capacity to handle any surge of COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks. COVID-19 cases that need additional attention will be admitted to specialized ICU locations in the hospital that are isolated from all admitted patients without COVID-19 infections. We are prepared to keep everyone entering the hospital safe.
In addition to beds and ventilators, MUSC is doing everything possible to reduce unnecessary use of personal protective equipment, and if needed, safely reuse supplies. Hospital staff are asked not to wear makeup when wearing respirators or surgical masks as it prevents them from being sterilized afterwards. Leadership has also requested healthcare workers that need to wear respirators to remove facial hair that would prevent a safe seal for use.
COVID-19 Pre-Op Testing
COVID-19 testing before surgeries as well as before placing patients in beds will increase safety from possible COVID-19 exposures to our employees and patients. As the hospital begins recovery from COVID-19 restrictions and to perform more surgeries as well as open the emergency department for non-COVID emergencies, Perioperative Services has been working closely with primary care teams, anesthesia teams, Information Technology and lab partners to streamline preprocedural testing for incoming patients. This will help physicians and patients make more informed decisions about their care.
In the coming weeks, MUSC is looking into ways to conduct COVID-19 immunity testing. By testing hospital workers and patients for COVID-19 antibodies, MUSC hopes to find possible immunity to COVID-19. COVID-19 immunity identification would help lessen the future risk for employees and patients.