St. Joseph’s/Candler watching hard hit areas to prepare for influx of COVID-19 patients

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SAVANNAH, GA. (WSAV)- As cases continue to increase in Georgia, Savannah hospitals are anticipating the worst.

Doctors working in the emergency department said because COVID-19 is a novel virus they are learning as they go.

So far, St. Joseph’s Hospital has five confirmed cases while Candler hospital has one.

Nurses and physicians working on the front lines suit up in scrubs, protective gear, and latex gloves. As long as they are treating isolated patients those items stay on.

“All of us are aware of the potential threat to friends and family especially if we should be infected and be asymptomatic,” said Dr. Jeff Kenney, Emergency Department Medical Director, St. Joseph’s/Candler. “A lot of us on our own are initiating social insolation strategies in our own homes and have kind of contingency plans should we become ill.”

Meanwhile, back at the hospital every patient that enters the hospital is screened. If they are experiencing dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath they are asked to sanitize their hands and put on a mask upon arrival.

He said if the patient is sick enough to be transported by ambulance that process is happening on the way to the hospital.

“they may not notice anything, but the ambulance crews are our eyes and ears they are notifying us ahead of time if they have a patient they’re suspicious about,” said Kenney. “If that’s the case that patient is treated differently.”

Kenney said this allows staff to prepare for intake. “When you first walk into the emergency department it’s foremost on everybody’s mind so the nurses have some screening questions,” said Kenney.

These screening question no longer include travel history due the present community spread in Chatham County.

St. Jospeh’s emergency room volume has actually been down in the past week, but should there be any spikes in cases, Kenney said, they’ll be ready.

“As an emergency medicine doctor group we are looking at some of our part time more recently retired employees,” said Kenney. “We have processes in place for emergency credentialling if we need to bring in more help.”

As far as supplies go he said masks, and ventilators are stocked, for now. The hospital has 50 ICU beds and says the amount of patients that can be isolated is dependent upon the hospital’s daily census, which fluctuates all day long. Between St. Joseph’s and Candler, there are 714 patient beds.

“We’ve identified areas in the hospital outside the ICU’s where we can take care of ventilated patients if we need more space,” said Kenney.

WSAV News 3 was there as construction workers were building a new isolation area. A spokesperson with the hospital said this so they can treat patients with respiratory illness and discharge them faster, if appropriate.

Kenney said despite the threat of viral spread the hospital is still able to care for patients with other health problems not related to the outbreak.

“That’s our goal,” said Kenney. “To be able to continue to providing care for everyone while also handling this new challenge.”

Officials tell WSAV News 3 the hospital is in what they call an anticipation phase. They are watching hard hit areas and trying prepare accordingly.

“We are getting hundreds, if not thousands of people chipping in that have either been in the middle of it in New York or know friends in Italy or China,” said Kenney. “We are all providing eachother protocols, strategies, advice,” he said. “It’s overwhelming when you get hundreds of emails a day, but it’s really helpful.”

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