Hospital CEO: we’re prepared for coronavirus response

By Linton Johnson

The Executive Committee of the Elbert Memorial Hospital Authority held a called meeting Thursday morning to discuss the hospital’s and the community’s readiness to respond to the COVID-19, or coronavirus, outbreak.

In an opening statement, Hospital CEO Kerry Trapnell said EMH is ready to take care of the community if and when the virus strikes locally.

“Elbert Memorial Hospital continues to monitor the global COVID-19 outbreak very closely,” Trapnell said. “At this time, there are no known cases locally. However, our goal is to ensure a safe place for our patients and staff. In doing so, we will follow guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Georgia Department of Public Health.

“Both recommend minimizing your changes for exposure such as avoiding crowded gatherings and, most importantly, using proper hand hygiene. EMH has posted signs at our entrances warning the public on who should not visit the hospital and the importance of hand hygiene.

“We do encourage children under the age of 18 to refrain from visiting patients in the hospital at this time. We suggest that those wishing to visit a patient instead consider a phone call to share updates and well wishes by speaking with patients by using either their cell phone or private hospital phone, available in each patient room.

“Should there be a case of COVID-19 in our community, we will continue to work closely with local healthcare providers and the Department of Public Health in caring for any such patients. EMH is ready to take care of our community. We all want a safe and healthy community. We appreciate your support in helping us keep our patients and your own health at the center of everything we do at EMH.”

Presently, Trapnell said, the hospital staff is operating on a business-as-usual basis but is prepared to respond to daily changes in the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are prepared for any type of patient who comes into our emergency room,” Trapnell said. “We’re already prepared if there’s a patient with TB who came in, a patient with bed bugs, a patient with anything that we treat those patients the same way. With have all the cleaning products need to take care of this virus in-house. Our staff is properly trained in knowing what to do.

“The most important thing to say is this is very fluid; this changes daily. The number of cases changes daily. Even though there are no cases here locally, that could change tomorrow. It could change this afternoon, and we will adjust accordingly.”

Chief Nursing Officer Tammy Harlow discussed the hospital’s ability to test patients who are experiencing coronavirus symptoms.

“We have two rooms on the acute care unit that could be converted into isolation rooms should we have to admit a patient,” Harlow said. “If we can handle that patient, that patient stays here. Hopefully, as of today, we will have the kits to be able to obtain the swabs that still go to CDC and everybody for testing. But hopefully we’ll at least be able to get the swabs to test the patient should we need to do that.”

Beth Seymour of Elbert County Emergency Services said members of the public can help by taking steps to limit their exposure to the virus.

“I think one thing, too, is for the public to understand exposure,” Seymour said. “That is in close proximity to someone that’s positive with the virus or who have been overseas and are showing signs and symptoms of it and you’ve been in close proximity to them. If you have a fever and a cough but you have not had that exposure, we just need to get the public to understand what that exposure is and how important it is to know your risks.”

Also on hand for the meeting were Josh Bowman and Wanda Graham of the Department of Public Health, Elberton Police Chief Mark Welsh and Elbert County Administrator Bob Thomas, who asked about recommended actions related to the upcoming Little League baseball and softball season at McWilliams Park.

Trapnell responded, “That’s the hardest part right now, giving that advice out and what should you do. The guidelines we’re getting from everyone is to avoid public spaces with a lot of people. Does that mean don’t go to church, does that mean not go to school, does that mean not go to ballgames? It’s really at this point up to that person to decide that and to understand your risks of where you might be. The elderly probably should not attend.”

Seymour and Trapnell urged the public to stay informed on daily developments by checking the Facebook pages of Elbert Memorial and Elbert County Emergency Services or the websites of the CDC, Georgia Public Health and the state Department of Education. Or call the Public Health emergency line at 1-866-PUB-HLTH.


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