Five weeks after implementing its first round of visitor restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers’ President & CEO Mark Steadham is reflecting on all of the measures that have been implemented by the organization in order to safely deliver care at the hospital and its 24 medical facilities throughout Grundy, LaSalle, Livingston, Kendall and Will counties.
As part of its emergency operations plan, Morris Hospital has had its Incident Command structure in place since March 13, which dedicates personnel to managing the organization’s response to the COVID pandemic 24 hours around the clock.
Infectious disease physician Dr. John Bolden serves as medical director to Incident Command, advising on infection control measures daily.
“For a community hospital our size, we are very fortunate to have the expertise of an infectious disease physician solely dedicated to our hospital,” Steadham said in a news release from Morris Hospital. “Dr. Bolden’s commitment is extraordinary. He has worked tirelessly for more than 40 days straight to guide and advise us on infection control measures.”
One of those measures involves requiring all staff to self-monitor for illness and wear a mask while working.
In addition, every patient or visitor who comes to a Morris Hospital facility is screened for symptoms of respiratory illness and has their temperature checked before being permitted to enter.
Some important changes were also made to the hospital facility itself in recent weeks, including converting one of the medical/surgical nursing units to a COVID dedicated inpatient unit.
This separates inpatients who are tested for the virus from patients who are hospitalized for other reasons.
Six intensive care beds were added to the COVID unit, which are in addition to the hospital’s regular ICU.
The heating, ventilation, and cooling system on the dedicated COVID unit was adjusted so that every patient room has negative air pressure in order to contain any potential airborne contaminants.
A separate, specialized safety plan was developed for the obstetrical unit, including adding a negative pressure nursery in case one is needed.
Of the 70 total inpatients who have been tested for COVID-19 over the past 5 weeks due to respiratory symptoms, only 9 have tested positive.
“While we’ve had some very sick patients with respiratory illness and pneumonia over the past few weeks, the majority have tested negative for COVID-19,” Steadham said in the release.
"One of the biggest challenges we’ve had is waiting for the test results to come back, which can take between 1-3 days. During that time, we have to assume the patient is positive and take all of the necessary precautions. That’s a long time to wait for test results.”
Steadham says the hospital has put great efforts into trying to obtain the reagent that’s needed to process COVID testing in its own laboratory but so far has come up empty handed.
“There have been a few times when we have been very close to being able to purchase the reagent, but then the supplies get diverted to another part of our country or state where activity is much greater than our community,” Steadham said in the release. “If we could run the test ourselves, we would have results in less than 30 minutes compared to 1-3 days. That would be a game changer.”
Along with safety precautions on the inpatient units, every treatment room in the hospital’s Emergency Department has also been converted to negative air pressure.
Patients with respiratory symptoms who come to the emergency department are asked to return to their car and pull around to a special entrance where they are initially evaluated. Only those requiring hospitalization are brought inside the emergency department where many special precautions are in place.
Steadham says the hospital’s immediate and convenient care walk-in clinics in Channahon, Diamond-Coal City, Morris, and Yorkville have remained open and are also taking precautions, including restricting individuals with respiratory symptoms to video visits so that those who need to be seen for other reasons can continue to come in person.
“From the start, the Centers for Disease Control and Illinois Department of Public Health have advised those with mild respiratory symptoms to stay home and contact their provider,” Steadham said in the release. “We’re proud of our team for quickly putting telemedicine video appointments in place so we have an option for those seeking care for mild respiratory symptoms.”
Providers in Morris Hospital’s 22 physician office settings are also using video technology for the first time to conduct appointments with patients, not only for those who have respiratory symptoms but for other medical reasons as well. At this time, approximately 70% of patient appointments are being done through video visits, with the remainder being done in person in the office.
Along with all of the planning related to infection control and caring for COVID patients, Steadham says not to be forgotten are the hospital services that are critical to patients with other health care needs, including lifesaving diagnosis and treatment of cardiac and other vascular issues in the hospital’s cath lab, essential surgeries and procedures, delivery of new newborns, diagnostic testing, infusion therapy, radiation treatment, rehabilitation, and emergency and inpatient care for other conditions.