Stillwater Medical CEO more concerned than ever about community spread

Stillwater Medical CEO Denise Webber is pragmatic but hopeful in the face of COVID-19 spikes in Payne County.

She’s seen spikes before, little spikes, she called them. And she saw a community able to limit the spread. But the past two weeks have been more concerning, she said during the Stillwater Medical Foundation’s State of the Hospital address during First Friday. Stillwater, at one point, was seeing a daily total average of around 60 cases per day.

“Right now is the first time I’ve been highly concerned about where our numbers are in Stillwater and Payne County,” she said last week. “Not necessarily what’s been going on in the hospital – when this first broke, the pandemic, all the epidemiologists were educating us on what to look for in the trends and numbers. That was many months ago – a March, April, time frame – and it was all about what was happening in your city and county and that can turn into those hospitalizations. What’s happening in our city and county is not good.”

First Friday

First Friday - State of SMC and COVID update with Denise Webber, President/CEO of Stillwater Medical Health System. You can forward to about 3:40 for the beginning of the program (we were making certain the video and sound were all good for a couple of minutes).

Posted by Stillwater Medical Foundation on Friday, September 4, 2020

SMC has been fortunate that the city has not seen many deaths, nor many hospitalizations compared to other cities with a similar population. The most recent cases are from younger people, who often don’t require hospitalization. But the concern is that growing community spread could find its way to a vulnerable population.

“It’s kind of been dipping, ebbing and flowing, pretty small, and right now we’re just on this upward trajectory,” she said. “We’re trying to get people aware that it’s time to contract, to not get out and about.”

She said they’ve been fortunate to have a community that has responding with donations in personal protective equipment.

“As far as PPE, thank you,” she said. “Several of you donated some masks. Several of our community members just really stepped up and helped us. I never in my life thought I would see the supply chain of our health care system fall flat on its face. That’s what it did. Because this is a town and a community that rallies behind each other, it didn’t happen at Stillwater Medical, but other hospitals were making face shields out of Krispy Kreme Donut boxes – in this state.

“It really was a devastating time for health care. Thankfully, we had all that we needed, but I don’t know that we would have without our community.”

She also said that they’ve had some luck treating patients with Remdesivir and convalescent plasma, though the science on treatment is far from compete.

“As far as medications and treatments it’s been a roller coaster,” she said. “There is still a lot to learn.”

As far as testing, Webber said, it’s been “a mess.”

She explained that they can gather specimens with the nasal swab, but that it requires a reagent to utilize the specimen and reagents are getting more and more scarce.

“We can’t get enough,” she said. “We’re supposed to get 100 a week, based on our size. They dropped it down to 80, then 50, the latest we’re hearing is 30. We’re not alone. That’s nationwide, that’s why we can’t get out there and do mass testing.”

Speaking to residents at the Legacy Village of Stillwater, a large retirement community, Webber emphasized the need for precautions like wearing face coverings and empathized with those you were unable to see grandchildren or extended family. Her suggestion was maintained a tight “bubble.”

“Personally, I have not seen my family very often,” she said. “You can protect yourself. We call them bubbles. If you’re really close to a bubble of people, and all people the bubble are taking precaution … but intermixing bubbles and everybody’s not careful (is a problem).”

She highlighted a Maine wedding, which led to dozens of new infections. Webber also took a shot at dispelling some misinformation floating around, at how people mistakenly or intentionally misinterpreted death certificate data to mean that only about 6 percent of deaths were caused by COVID-19. The disease, she said, leads to a lot of other complications.

The big question, though, was “will it continue.” In answer, she said, it depends on all of us.

“What I’ve been told, that 18-35 age range, there are definitely OSU students in that mix, but a lot of young people that live here that are of that social age and want to have just as much fun as a college student,” she said. “It’s up to us to impress upon them that things can get really bad if we keep trending this way. I’m hopeful, we began to see little spikes and we got them back down. I’m hopeful, but it takes all of us to make that happen.”

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