Evangelical Community Hospital

Evangelical Community Hospital, Lewisburg, as seen at the Donehower-Eisenhauer Pavilion Entrance.

Evangelical Community Hospital patients awaiting COVID-19 test results are now held in a segregated unit inside the hospital.

The hospital enacted measures within its coronavirus surge plan Tuesday night as staff at the Lewisburg facility cared for five patients under investigation for COVID-19, according to the hospital’s president and CEO.

No one tested at Evangelical has yet received positive results for the respiratory disease. It’s only a matter of time, Kendra Aucker said.

“It’s taking so long to get the tests back. Fortunately, we have not had any positive results,” Aucker said before issuing a warning. “This should not be fueling conversations of overreaction. We are not overreacting. It is in our region. It’s in our area. It’s here.”

Of 114 patients tested so far, 92 await results from independent laboratories. The 22 test results returned were negative, Aucker said. Seventy-three patients were tested at the alternative site established last week behind Plaza 15, a short walk from the hospital.

Pennsylvania Department of Health announced at noon Wednesday there are 1,127 confirmed positives in the state, up 276 cases from the day prior. There were 371 total confirmed cases Saturday. There were 103 new cases that day and no fewer than that in the four days since: 108, 165, 207, 276, respectively.

The surge plan calls for the isolation of case-positive patients in segmented areas of the hospital among additional contingencies, Aucker said. It’s designed to prevent the potential spread of the novel coronavirus that causes respiratory disease COVID-19.

The plan addresses an anticipated surge in patients and separating them from those not infected by the virus. The hospital is licensed to treat 132 overnight patients. It would take just four to five positive cases to trigger patient isolation, she said.

Additional plan details are expected to be released when Aucker hosts a media call Friday.

Hospital leaders studied the coronavirus and necessary preparations since January, Aucker said. Safety measures instituted already include visitor restrictions and screenings, off-site testing and the postponement of elective surgeries, which accounts for 30 percent of hospital revenue, according to Aucker. About 400 non-medical employees are on temporary furlough.

As it stands, Evangelical maintains an adequate supply of different masks and protective gear on hand for staff, Aucker said. That inventory will be tested dependent on the size and duration of a patient surge.

Matthew Exley, Evangelical’s emergency preparedness coordinator, added that the hospital has a “good supply” of ventilators and personnel on hand needed to operate the machinery.

He said supply chain services began monitoring supplies needed to respond to respiratory illness in December as the virus spread in China.

“The hospital regularly maintains an emergency stockpile of supplies for cases like these. It’s part of the emergency preparedness plan at all times and not just when a crisis is occurring,” Exley said.

There’s been no recent influx of additional supplies, however, Exley said staff routinely places orders and is following up on those requests.

Inventory has been bolstered by donations from the public as well as private industries. N95 respirator masks, an elusive item amid the coronavirus pandemic, have been donated by construction companies, Valley universities and technical schools, Aucker said.

The N95 is different than the traditional surgical mask, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The masks fit tighter, have stricter testing requirements and filters airborne particulates. Surgical masks don’t provide respiratory protection for the wearer. Both types of masks are meant for one-time use.

Geisinger has negative-pressure rooms used in the treatment of patients with any contagious disease including COVID-19, Media Specialist Joe Stender said.

“Geisinger has enough beds to meet current and projected needs in our communities,” Stender said.

Like Evangelical, Geisinger also set up auxiliary screening and treatment tents for many of the health system’s emergency departments. The tents weren’t set up in response to increased demand, Stender said; rather, they’re already in place in the event of an increase.

When patients or visitors show symptoms of respiratory illness, infection control measures are enacted. Staff dresses in proper gowning, masking and more, Stender said, while the patient is taken to a designated area for care.

“Many cases of COVID-19 can be managed at home, so it is recommended that those who are experiencing symptoms they believe are related to potential exposure to COVID-19 should first call their primary care physician or our hotline at 570-284-3657, to be advised on proper treatment,” Stender said.

Evangelical and Geisinger advocate the practice of social distancing towards easing the burden on national and regional healthcare infrastructures.

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