Rebuilding America: The lasting impact on healthcare
Throughout the past few months, hospitals and health care providers nationwide have faced many challenges related to the COVID-19 public health crisis. From personal protective equipment and patient and employee safety, to the financial impact of the COVID-19 response, providers needed to be agile. Locally, Lake Regional Health System reacted quickly to the rapidly changing environment to protect their patients, employees and the community. Below, Lake Regional shares some of the changes made, as well as anticipated changes as the health care system moves forward.
What will a visit to Lake Regional Hospital look like for the foreseeable future?
Since mid-March, Lake Regional has restricted visitors to our facilities, per CDC guidelines. This change has helped us protect our patients, as well as our employees. We anticipate these restrictions will remain in place throughout June or until the Phase 3 federal gating criteria, part of the President’s Plan for Opening America Up Again, can be met.
Although the Emergency Department and all Lake Regional clinics have remained open to care for our community, things may seem different if you haven’t visited lately. Here’s what you can expect:
• Screening for all staff and patients before they enter the buildings
• Requiring face coverings to enter our facilities (provided for patients who do not have them)
• Disinfecting exam rooms thoroughly between each patient visit
• Arranging waiting rooms to allow for social distancing and cleaning them thoroughly more often
While in-person visits at all of our clinics are still available and safe, you also have the option to see your provider from the comfort of your home. Your doctor is just a click away with a virtual visit using your computer or mobile device. To schedule, go to lakeregional.com and click “request an appointment,” or simply call your doctor’s office.
What is the lasting impact of COVID-19 on Lake Regional and health care in general?
Virtual visits. Lake Regional has ramped up capacity to offer virtual visits for primary care, as well as telemedicine for certain specialties. This investment in technology has allowed us to safely care for many patients at high risk for COVID-19 complications, such as those with lung and heart conditions. Virtual visits even helped providers follow up with COVID-19 patients after they were discharged from the hospital. We are excited to see patients benefiting from this new offering.
Innovation and collaboration. This virus has posed unique challenges to providers worldwide. Locally, our team produced new ideas for extending the life of personal protective equipment and collaborated to open two drive-thru testing stations to serve our community. We are proud of the teamwork demonstrated by these efforts and will continue to do whatever it takes to provide the best care to our community.
Antibody screening. Lake Regional is currently in the process of validating an antibody test to determine if a person has been previously infected by COVID-19. A positive result would mean a person was exposed to COVID-19 and their immune system fought it off.
“It’s important to understand the limits of antibody testing: It cannot diagnose a current infection, neither can it confirm immunity,” said Mike Dow, director of Lake Regional Ancillary Services. “The hope is that a previous immune response would provide some protection against future infection, but researchers are still figuring that out.”
Once the test is validated at Lake Regional, it would be available with a physician’s order in the hospital lab. The test is performed with a blood draw, and results are available to the ordering physician within an hour.
How does a health system recover financially?
We expect the demand for health care services to return to and even exceed pre-crisis levels. Because of this, we prioritized keeping our workforce whole and we are ready for the long-term.
Like other hospitals nationwide, Lake Regional has experienced a slowdown in visits and procedures. Some of this was by design – for example, non-emergent surgical procedures were halted in March as a precaution, per CDC guidance. But, the drop in clinic and Emergency Department visits was likely because some people who needed care voluntarily delayed seeking treatment.
“As we transition back to being fully open, we want everyone to know that it’s safe to seek care,” said Lake Regional CEO Dane Henry, FACHE. “Our clinics, Express Care locations and Emergency Department are taking all of the necessary precautions to provide care safely. There’s no reason to delay your treatment.”
What are the lessons the health system learned during this trying time?
From early on, we focused on pulling together.
“Throughout this crisis, we had three goals: 1) provide the health care our community needs, 2) keep our team members safe and well, and 3) keep our team together,” Henry said. “I’m proud to say we have seen staff come together in new ways to meet these goals. We learned that our shared values – Commit to Each Other, Encourage Excellence and Care More than Expected – will get us through extreme challenges.”
We also learned that our community pulls with us. Local residents and business owners have supported us in many ways – big and small – and each donation, meal and show of support has made a difference. We are committed to you and more proud than ever to serve you.
If the virus makes a comeback in the fall, does Lake Regional have needed supplies?
Our experience caring for COVID-19 patients this spring has given us a solid understanding of what will be needed should the area experience a rebound in cases. Lake Regional is using this data and experience with our supply chain to plan now for fall and beyond.
“Our Materials Management team members are unsung heroes,” Henry said. “Through efficient purchasing and by tightly managing supplies, we have continually protected our employees and patients from this virus.”
Also, our pharmacy team has ensured we have the medications we need. Lake Regional has a supply of various anti-viral medications being studied as potential treatments for COVID-19. We also have access to remdesivir, which the FDA has already granted “emergency use approval” for treating COVID-19 patients.
NECESSITY SPURS INNOVATION
When Lake Regional Health System needed to conserve its supply of N95 masks, Fields Mechanical Systems in Springfield, Missouri, and AAON Inc. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, formed an innovative solution: the Atlas UV Disinfectant Device. Using UV rays, the companies created a way to sterilize personal protective equipment for Lake Regional and other hospitals in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, as the public health crisis grew, hospitals nationwide were competing for the same resources, including personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses. Lake Regional began looking for ways to conserve their supply, an effort that involved all levels of the organization.
Jimmy Miller, manager of Engineering HVAC at Lake Regional, approached Aaron Fields, president of Fields Mechanical Systems, about the hospital’s need for masks. Miller and Fields had previously worked together on Lake Regional’s HVAC system, which uses ultraviolet light to keep its filters and coils clean. N95 masks are also a type of filter, and Miller thought they might be reusable if disinfected.
“It got me thinking, ‘What can I do to help?’” Aaron Fields said. “I thought about what had been tested and proven. That sparked my idea to make a cabinet with enough UV-C rays to disinfect their masks.”
Aaron Fields took the idea to his brother, Gary Fields, the president and chief executive officer of AAON, Inc., a leading manufacturer of heating and cooling products headquartered in Tulsa. They and the AAON engineering team developed a prototype for the Atlas UV Disinfectant Device in just two weeks.
“This innovative technology allowed us to extend the use of a single N95 mask from five days of use to 35 days of use,” said Kevin McRoberts, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Lake Regional Health System. “That was a game changer for us. It meant we could continue protecting our employees and our patients throughout this crisis.”
According to Aaron Fields, the device is very easy to use: The health care worker hangs the masks from the sliding racks that load in the cabinet, closes the door and starts the machine. The cabinet, which holds approximately 30 masks, uses a high dose of UV-C to disinfect the masks.
UV has long been used in health care for disinfection. Aaron Fields used existing studies on UV-C disinfectant capabilities to determine how many microwatts per centimeter-squared are needed to kill bacteria and viruses, and therefore what was needed in the cabinets.
“We’ve made revisions based on feedback from the prototypes in the different facilities,” he said. “Within two weeks, we made this idea an actual reality. And now, AAON is ready to ship the final devices.”
When the first Atlas was completed, Aaron Fields drove roundtrip to Tulsa so that he could pick up and donate the device to Lake Regional in Osage Beach on Saturday, April 4. The hospital put the Atlas into use within the week.
“When I learned we were getting the Atlas, I was so proud,” McRoberts said. “Jimmy and Aaron, working together, found a solution that will protect our patients and caregivers, as well as others throughout the state using this device. We are grateful to Aaron for working with our organization and for donating this lifesaving technology.
“Without the help of our vendors and the community, I’m not sure we would have been able to weather the COVID-19 storm as well as we have,” McRoberts continued. “We are very thankful.”
Rebuilding America:What will healthcare look like after COVID-19?