“Be prepared” is more than a scouting motto. For Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, an Emergency Response Plan that was already in place was instrumental in ensuring the healthcare system could effectively respond as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the Salinas Valley, Monterey Peninsula and the surrounding region.
Stronger Emergency Services
As COVID-19 infections escalated across the nation, a higher-than-anticipated number of people streamed into emergency departments for treatment. Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Response Plan provided a blueprint to help the Emergency Department manage that influx, prevent the spread of infection and keep patients who were not COVID-19-positive safe.
“Our hospital was really well prepared by our Emergency Response Plan,” says Robert Ferris, DM, MS, CHEP, Emergency Manager at SVMHS. “We had a warehouse stocked with PPE, tents and supplies, and had a plan in place to keep our Emergency Department operating efficiently and safely.”
The plan outlined the security and environmental services procedures necessary to manage the inflow of patients who arrived at the Emergency Department in higher numbers each day. With triage nurses organizing patient flow, symptomatic patients were treated in connected negative-pressure tents in the parking lot. This freed up space in the Emergency Department to treat emergency patients who were not symptomatic and kept the spread of the disease in check.
Proactive COVID – 19 Screening
While little was known about COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic, one thing was certain: everyone was at risk. In early 2020, SVMHS set up a community COVID-19 hotline. Designed to help people decide if they needed to be tested or come in for emergency care, staffers found that the service provided a much-needed lifeline to people confused and scared about the pandemic. Thanks to the staff of bilingual nurses who answered the calls every day, community members got the information and caring support they needed.
As the coronavirus crisis evolved, so too did in-person screening at SVMHS. The hospital established free drive-up screening in the parking lot near the Emergency Department. The service made it easier for potential COVID-19 patients to get medical evaluation without leaving their cars, which promoted social distancing and reduced the risk of spreading the virus. After evaluation, if someone needed to be tested for COVID-19, a nurse came to the car to do the test.
Safe Surgeries and Childbirth
In the spring of 2020, we temporarily suspended elective procedures to mitigate virus transmission. But elective procedures have important positive health impacts, and delaying surgical management of a condition can lead to adverse outcomes. SVMHS quickly enacted a system to support necessary surgical procedures and ensure safety for patients and healthcare teams.
Unlike surgeries that could be rescheduled, however, childbirth cannot be postponed. The hospital elevated its procedures to ensure that mothers who would deliver babies in the hospital were protected. All the normal birthing assistance remained available, and one support person was permitted to accompany each delivering mom.
Enhanced COVID-19 safety protocols enacted to protect surgical patients also helped protect mothers and babies too. Those protocols included: screening patients for COVID-19 before surgery or delivery; increasing cleaning and disinfection protocols; the use of maximum personal protective equipment for staff; minimizing visitors; providing COVID-19 screening of visitors before admittance; and requiring face masks at all times.