Like hospitals across the state, Stillwater Medical Center is following government direction to prepare for an increase in patients as COVID-19 infection rates reach their expected peak in late April.
Medical facilities are getting ready to handle surge numbers 40% above their normal capacity.
That takes a combination of facilities, supplies and staffing.
SMC is increasing the number of negative pressure rooms available in the hospital. It originally had eight in various locations.
The hospital is temporarily creating more negative pressure rooms by installing powerful ventilating equipment that creates suction and keeps anything in the air from leaving the room. The air being discharged outside is run through strong filters.
Negative pressure rooms are used with COVID-19 patients as well as patients with other infectious diseases like tuberculosis.
Stillwater Medical is also working on plans to expand its number of intensive care beds beyond the usual seven. One plan had been to place respiratory ICU patients in a different area near the emergency department but plans to expand ICU capacity are under development.
Because Stillwater Medical also operates smaller community hospitals in Perry and Blackwell, administrators are taking a systemwide look at increasing capacity.
Because Perry and Blackwell don’t have ICU beds, patients who aren’t as sick could potentially be cared for at one of those facilities if it became critical to create more ICU space in Stillwater.
“We’re open to looking at all possible options,” SMC Director of Public Relations Shyla Eggers said. “We’re treating it as a system.”
Staffing is another issue the hospital is addressing.
Staff from areas that are currently closed or underutilized are cross-training or being assigned to other areas where they are needed. Nurses from units like Maternal Child Health, Same-day Surgery and the surgery center are being reassigned to units where they’re needed, said Cheryl Wilkinson, SMC Vice-president for Quality Assurance Performance Improvement.
Nurses who had transitioned into non-acute care roles are going into departments to get their skills back up, Wilkinson said. Some former nurses and members of the medical staff who retired have contacted the hospital and volunteered to come back if they’re needed.
Other non-clinical staff is picking up the work normally done by SMC’s volunteers. The volunteers have been sent home because many of them are older retirees who are at high risk from COVID-19.
Levels of supplies and supply chains are being monitored daily.
SMC currently has about seven days of personal protective equipment like face masks, eye protection, gowns and gloves on hand. But if it weren’t for donations, that would be closer to two day’s supply, Wilkinson said.
Donations of disinfectant and cleaning supplies that are also in short supply have made a big difference, she said.
The hospital still needs more disposable gowns and disposable bouffant caps, if anyone has those.
The staff has also asked people looking for ways to help to consider making headbands with buttons on them to hold the elastic straps on N95 face masks.
When people wear the masks all day, the elastic begins rubbing the backs of their ears raw, Wilkinson said.
The hospital is also still welcoming donations of the cloth masks people in the community have been sewing. Donations can be dropped at the 12th Avenue campus at 1201 S. Adams St.