CHI Memorial, which operates a hospital in Fort Oglethorpe and other medical facilities in Walker and Catoosa counties, held an online public forum Thursday, May 28.
The panel consisted of Dr. Suzanne Storey, a family practice physician with CHI Memorial Convenient Care in LaFayette; Dr. Melanie Blake, internal medicine physician and physician’s assistant with CHI Memorial; Dr. Matt Kodsi, vice president of medical affairs at CHI Memorial; Janelle Reilly, CEO at CHI Memorial. Steven Henry, chairman of the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners, was the forum’s moderator.
CHI in ‘good financial state’
Reilly spoke about the hospital’s economic health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit hospitals hard financially across the nation.
“We are pleased to say that we are in good financial state and are able to weather through this pandemic,” Reilly said.
CHI Memorial Hospital-Georgia in Fort Oglethorpe saw a “significant” financial impact from the pandemic, she said. Elective procedures dropped 50% in April, but are reviving and are up to about 70-80% There have also been significant incremental expenses to fight COVID-19, such as additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and the need for more staff.
Federal and state money has helped, Reilly said. For example, cash advances from Medicare and Medicaid helped CHI continue to pay salaries and meet some other expenses. These cash advances are loans that have to be paid back, she said. Stimulus funds, which are grants, helped to fund telemedicine, she said. FEMA funds were also available.
Safety measures and services
Kodsi said CHI has taken many steps to prevent patients from being exposed to the coronavirus. While emphasizing that the public needs to wear masks, he said all CHI Memorial hospital employees wear masks. More recently, all patients must also wear masks.
He encouraged the public to wear masks when out in public. “One key aspect to minimize and hopefully seriously prevent passing on this virus throughout the community is to have individuals wear masks when they are outside in public areas,” Kodsi said.
Reilly said a study shows that natural precautionary measures such as wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing, and wearing the right protective equipment can reduce COVID-19-spread by 91%. She referred to a New York Times article saying that in Hong Kong 99% of the population is wearing masks and that Hong Kong is seeing very low rate of COVID-19 infection and spread.
CHI returned to elective procedures on May 4 and has taken several approaches to maintain safety, Kodsi said. CHI has looked at procedures, such as surgical procedures, that might aerosolize the virus and preventing them. Patients are pre-tested to make sure they aren’t carrying the virus, he said. All patients are pre-screened with questions. Any patient suspected of having COVID-19, or found to have it, is separated.
“Given these measures that we are taking,” he said, “we feel that the hospital is, has been and continues to be a very safe place for people to come who need health care.”
Some people are delaying health care and treatment for fear of catching the virus, he said. But they may be in greater danger from not getting treatment for such conditions as heart attack, heart failure and infections. “Please make sure that you are getting the health care that you need and that we feel very safe to provide,” he advised.
Blake said CHI carefully plans patient visits. “From the time a patient calls and makes an appointment,” she said, “we are letting them know that when you arrive for your appointment, call us from your vehicle and we will let you know when to come up so that you can bypass the waiting room if at all possible. We are staggering visits so that they’re spaced across the practice where we don’t have bottlenecks of patients in different locations, such as the lab for example.”
Patients are reminded to wear masks and wash their hands. They are screened for temperature and COVID-19 symptoms.
Meanwhile, CHI services are open or will soon open, including cardiac and other imaging, cardiac rehabilitation, wound care, geriatric, physical therapy, cancer care and the sleep center.
Reilly said CHI has relaxed its visitation policies, allowing one designated visitor per family member. During a hospital stay, the designated visitor can be changed if needed, but for 24-hour period that person is the designated visitor. Zoom is also being used for family visits with patients, she said.
Storey discussed telemedicine, saying she will conduct exams by phone but prefers Zoom video.
“I’m used to being in the room with the patient,” Storey said, “so having that (video) contact with them and being able to see them is just more comfortable to me.”
Once an appointment has been scheduled, the patient is sent via email a link that has a password and a meeting code.
“It (telemedicine) has been an excellent way to still provide care and maintain safety for the patient,” Storey said. “I really think it will be important forever.”
Remdesivir and convalescent plasma
Kodsi said CHI is using remdesivir, which is a broad-spectrum antiviral medication, to treat some COVID-19 patients.
“We are using that in the patients who are a little sicker. … We have a limited supply,” he said.
CHI is also using convalescent plasma. Blood is taken from someone who has overcome COVID-19 and the plasma, with antibodies, is given to COVID-19 patient. “That has been shown to be of some benefit as well,” he said.
Convalescent plasma can be collected 28 days after symptoms have been resolved, Blake said. A person can donate as often as once a week, depending on the person’s blood count. A unit of convalescent plasma can be used for up to four patients, she said.
“Our community members that have chosen to make this (blood) donation are just doing a tremendous amount of good for people who are affected by this,” she said.
“We have learned a great deal through this pandemic and certainly have approaches that we did not have early on,” he said. For example, health care workers initially believed that placing a patient on a breathing machine early was “the way to go,” he said. They have since learned this practice may not be the best procedure, that it may be better to place the patient on other oxygen-type therapies rather than a breathing machine.