Virus: KRMC, partners are prepared
KINGMAN – While coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Arizona, as of Monday, March 16, the number of people testing positive remained under 20. None of those Arizonans reside in Mohave County, where there has yet to be a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Should that change at some point in the future, Kingman Regional Medical Center has strict protocols in place to care for those affected and prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible.
But Teri Williams, director of communications and marketing at KRMC, explained that there’s no reason to panic even if the virus makes it to Mohave County. She said, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website confirmed, that most reported illnesses so far have been considered mild. Serious cases could require the use of ventilators or respirators to assist patients with breathing, but Williams reiterated that won’t be the norm.
“Just because you get it doesn’t mean you’ll need a respirator,” Williams noted.
However, those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases and the elderly are at higher risk of being more severely affected by the virus than others.
But regardless of severity, KRMC already has protocols in place to address the issue. Those protocols are long established through the Centers for Disease Control, and elaborated on and targeted to coronavirus through the efforts of numerous local, state and national agencies.
Area hospitals of Kingman, Bullhead and Lake Havasu cities are now holding weekly meetings with the Mohave County Department of Public Health to address response to the virus. Further collaboration comes from the Arizona Department of Health Services, the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, and more.
“There’s tons of collaboration happening,” Williams said. “Nationally, locally, at the state, everywhere. We’re all dealing with this together. This is not something we want to work on in a vacuum as one hospital in Kingman, Arizona. It’s very far reaching.”
KRMC has erected a tent outside of the Emergency Room entrance, which could be considered one of the first lines of defense against the spread of coronavirus. There, doctors screen all patients coming in with respiratory illnesses or symptoms. If they have those symptoms, patients enter the hospital through a separate entrance. For that matter, everyone entering the hospital is screened for symptoms at the front. If they don’t meet the screening criteria, they can’t enter the hospital.
“That minimizes the risk, screening for respiratory illness before anybody comes in the building,” Williams said.
Those testing positive for any respiratory illness begin the isolation process. Again, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the county so far, but other respiratory illnesses are common this time of year, Williams said.
KRMC follows all CDC requirements for isolation, and is “really good” at preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Williams said KRMC has received an “A” grade from the LeapFrog Group’s annual Hospital Safety Grade the past two years in regards to how it handles infections. Patients in isolation have a room to themselves, and anyone entering the room needs personal protective gear.
“There are very strict, very practiced precautions that we take always at the hospital when there’s an infection disease involved,” Williams explained. “Health care workers are trained in those precautions. It involves use of personal protective equipment and following all CDC guidelines.”
Respiratory illness and its relation to isolation protocols has required KRMC, along with many other hospitals around the country, to conserve personal protective gear such as gowns, gloves and masks. For that reason, patients in isolation cannot at the moment receive visitors, as those visitors would also be required to wear personal protective gear.
“Normally they can receive visitors, but those visitors need protective gear as well,” Williams said. “Right now, because there’s such a national shortage of personal protective equipment, to conserve our current supply we’re not allowing visitors into isolation.”
Williams said KRMC has enough personal protective gear for now, but that conservation is important in the event of a larger patient surge. Also, should coronavirus cases be confirmed in the county, KRMC will reevaluate its utilization of volunteers. For now, those volunteers have been educated on the virus and continue to work in areas without patient contact.
“We are just being very strict about not being wasteful of our supplies right now,” she added.
Along those same lines of conservation and supply enters a discussion on testing kits and procedures. First and foremost, Williams said the hospital is still seeing plenty of flu, cold and respiratory bugs, and that those are common this time of year. If experiencing symptoms, she said, chances are it stems from a bug other than coronavirus.
Patients, whether they are concerned about coronavirus, another respiratory illness or something else, can now be evaluated from their homes through KRMC’s telemedicine system Care Anywhere, https://krmc.zipnosis.com/. Patients communicate with a KRMC medical provider and answer questions about their symptoms. The provider reviews those symptoms and gets back to the patient with direction.
On weekdays, patients should hear from a medical provider within hours. On weekends, patients will receive responses the following week. If calling in reference to a respiratory illness, there is no charge through Care Anywhere. In some cases, a patient may be directed to go to the hospital for further evaluation. Or, they may be told to stay home and rest.
Williams said people should utilize Care Anywhere before making a trip to KRMC, unless an emergency is taking place where, for example, a person cannot breathe.
“Other than that, stay home and use telemedicine,” she said. “That will help immensely in controlling the spread. If the medical provider feels they need to be seen, they will be directed to come in.”
That brings up the next notable point in regards to coronavirus: testing kits. Williams said some employers have instructed employees with symptoms to not return to work until they have been tested for the virus. That isn’t going to happen, she noted, adding that tests won’t be administered to people coming in with the sniffles.
“We still don’t have testing kits to test everyone who wants to be tested,” Williams said. “When people go on the telemedicine service, if we feel they need to be tested, they will be notified and they’ll come in and they’ll be tested.”
The public has numerous venues by which they can educate themselves on coronavirus. The CDC website, https://www.cdc.gov/, provides a wealth of information from background to symptoms. KRMC, https://www.azkrmc.com/, is also updating its website daily with coronavirus information, and has even set up a call center to which people can direct questions. That call center can be reached at 928-263-3456.
Williams also spoke to residents in the high-risk category.
“There are so many things we can do as a community to help people in those high-risk groups,” she said. “As a community, think about your elderly neighbors and what they need.”