Hospitals prep for sick; virus reaches Trumbull County

Herald file

Anyone seeking entrance into AHN-Grove City hospital, sick or well, will undergo close scrutiny.

“We’re screening absolutely everyone who enters the hospital,’’ said JoAnne Clobus, vice president of marketing and public relations for AHN-Grove City hospital.

And the Grove City hospital, under the Allegheny Health Network umbrella, is not alone.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing hospital systems in Mercer County to rewrite their playbooks – sometimes daily. Hospital officials constantly examine issues ranging from the procedure for allowing people to enter medical buildings to the review of patients’ medical records.

Every day, hospital staff representatives and department heads meet to get updates about COVID-19, Clobus said.

“It starts on the dot at 1:30 p.m.,’’ she said. “And everyone gets status reports, new protocols and procedures.’’ 

Clobus said AHN-Grove City takes its lead from updates provided by federal agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes a recommendation last week encouraging people to use masks when going out in public.

“It’s optional for our staff,’’ Clobus said of wearing a mask. “If a patient comes into the hospital and has had either a cough or recent elevated fever we ask them to wear a mask.’’

At Sharon Regional Medical Center, a hospital in the Steward Health Care System, the policy is more strict.

“We’re pretty much all masks on everyone entering our hospital or outpatient centers,’’ said Lisa DiMuccio-Zgela, director of marketing and community relations for Sharon Regional.

But Sharon Regional does have one thing in common with AHN-Grove City — daily meetings among the hospital’s leadership team and communication between administration and the medical staff, she said.

People permitted inside UPMC Horizon-Shenango Valley hospital in Farrell and UPMC Horizon-Greenville or Farrell hospitals receive masks, but wearing them is optional, according to UPMC’s website.

Rob Jackson, president of UPMC Horizon and UPMC Jameson, said the system’s hospitals in Mercer and Lawrence counties are not near capacity for equipment.

“We have a vast supply of ventilators and a well-developed logistics plan to support sites that might get busier than others,” he said. “We have a plan for every scenario. If Jameson or Farrell (Horizon-Shenango Valley) runs out, prior to that happening we would be getting equipment from our other sites. We want to reassure people that we are prepared.”

All three hospital systems in Mercer County are limiting entrance into their buildings and turn away most visitors.

They make exceptions for births and end-of-life situations. Also, the hospitals’ representatives said staff are screening visitors by checking temperatures and asking medical questions, including recording whether the visitor has recently been in physical contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

New technology also is playing a role in combatting the virus. Sharon Regional has “telehealth’’ appointments, which use patients’ devices to consult with health-care professionals. Telehealth appointments can be scheduled through a patient’s doctor’s office, DiMuccio-Zgela said.

“Once a telehealth visit is scheduled, the doctor’s office will provide patients with an email invitation for their appointment time, along with detailed instructions on how to download and use either application, if necessary,’’ DiMuccio-Zgela said. “The physician has the ability to access the patient’s medical record and will review medical history, medications or any test results directly with the patient. He or she can also enter the notes into the patient’s record for any necessary follow up or subsequent appointments. Telehealth video visits are well suited for patients who may be experiencing flu-like symptoms or other ailments, but do not want to travel to the office as this will mitigate exposure.’’

At AHN-Grove City, some of the screening is being done at its “Clinic in a Can.”

“These are totally self-contained little clinics we use on patients that allows us to screen patients before they enter the hospital,’’ Clobus said. “They have things like an examination table and a sink that has its own self-contained water supply. It’s used as a triage mechanism.’’

Dr. Sam Daisley, vice president of medical affairs at UPMC Horizon, said last week that the health system has a plan for staffing in the event of a surge.

And while each of the three local hospitals has different staffing levels, Piccione said UPMC has a vast, technical telemedicine capability, “and we have critical care teams that look at these patients any hour of the day.”She said hospitals are delaying elective surgery and procedures to keep hospital beds free for an expected surge of demand stemming from COVID-19. But there is still capacity for necessary procedures.

“Believe me, we understand this isn’t the case with emergencies,’’ Clobus said. “If somebody has a gallbladder attack and they need surgery – then they’re going to get that surgery.’’

While the pandemic has taken its toll both physically and mentally, support from the community has given Sharon Regional’s staff a lift, DiMuccio-Zgela said.

“We’ve had people and the business community bring in things for us like pizza, doughnuts, cookies – oh, I could just go on and on,’’ she said. “It’s so very appreciated.’’ 

Debbie Wachter of the New Castle News contributed to this story.