By BECKY KISER
Two people are currently hospitalized and being treated for COVID-19 at HaysMed, according to the hospital's medical director, Heather Harris, D.O., who is also a family medicine specialist.
"The two coronavirus positive patients are in a unit all by themselves that we created which is similar to an ICU (intensive care unit)," Harris said Thursday morning. "Luckily, none of them have been ventilated. Both of them arrived for respiratory symptoms."
She was a guest on the live University of Kansas Health System (TUKH) daily COVID-19 news conference along with Mark VanNorden, DO, family medicine specialist at TUKH Great Bend Campus and Christian Whittingon, MD, family medicine specialist at TUKH Pawnee Valley Campus in Larned.
HaysMed, part of The University of Kansas Health System, serves 21 northwest Kansas counties.
As of Thursday morning, Harris said, there were 13 coronavirus positive patients in the region; four of those people are in Ellis County.
(Early Thursday evening, the Ellis County Health Dept. (ECHD) issued a news release stating two more residents have tested positive for COVID-19. They are currently in home isolation, following the guidance of the CDC and ECHD. The patients are a female in her 50s and a male in his 30s who have a connection with each other.)
The three doctors talked about the challenges to rural hospitals in light of the outbreak.
"I think we have the advantage of being on the back end of the wave of this virus," Harris said, "so we could see the (equipment) shortages and the need for preparations."
A HaysMed team began meeting in early March to prepare.
Resources available through The University of Kansas Health System have been "very helpful," she added. "We have, I think, all the resources we need."
"We created 11 beds — what we're calling a Medical Care Unit — where we've (previously) put NCU (Neonatal Care Unit) patients. We were able to make all those 11 rooms negative-pressure rooms with the help of a local engineering company.
"Because we've had time to prepare," Harris noted, "I feel like we're doing really well with our PPE (personal protection equipment). It's something we continue to be very careful with using. In terms of N-95 and surgical masks, I feel like we're doing really well with our supply."
Shortages of protective equipment for healthcare workers have been reported across the country.
HaysMed has also made plans for a surge of patients.
"Because we're a referral center for 21 counties, we're preparing for a larger census if need be," Harris said. "That's required some creativity, both with nursing staff and providers. We currently have adequate staff."
There are fewer surgeries now at hospitals in Hays, Great Bend and Larned, making operating room physicians and nurses available for other patients.
Each campus has done cross-training among healthcare workers, who can then be moved where they're most needed.
Finney County in southwest Kansas announced Wednesday it will open a drive-through COVID-19 test site Monday at the county fairgrounds in Garden City . Up to 50 people a day can be tested — with an appointment — by the county health department.
Test kits at HaysMed are available only for hospitalized patients.
"In the next week to 10 days, we hope to have an in-house machine that will be able to do two tests every hour," Harris said.
HaysMed outpatients with symptoms such as respiratory distress are currently being tested for the virus.
"We're at a level to test those that need to be tested, but we're not at a level to test asymptomatic patients," she explained. "I can't test every Hays resident."
A variety of care is accessible to area residents if they need it.
HaysMed has established a coronavirus hotline through the hospital with questions answered by nurses.
Telehealth is up and running in nearly all of the hospital's clinics. It's also being used in Great Bend and Larned.
Patients are still being seen at the Hays Family Medicine clinic.
"We want to make sure they're getting the care they need and not avoiding other health concerns at this time," Harris said.
"We're encouraging everyone to reach out to their providers, and we'll sort out which is the best way for them to be seen. Technology has been on our side."
No visitors are allowed at HaysMed except in special circumstances. Staff members are wearing masks to protect patients.
Pawnee County has no reported active cases of coronavirus, according to Whittingon. Barton County has five cases, although there are currently no hospitalized patients in Great Bend, VanNorden said.
"Our community is doing a good job of staying at home and social distancing," Harris said. "They're taking this seriously, so hopefully we can all stay well."
The doctors emphasized hand-washing and not touching your face are still best practices in preventing the spread of COVID-19.