Piggott Community Hospital responds to outbreak

Saturday, March 21, 2020
An aggressive cleaning effort is part of Piggott Community Hospital’s plan for dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. Pictured is housekeeping department member Veronica Jones, as she prepares one of the vacant rooms for possible use.
Photo by Tim Blair, TD staff

Although there have been no regional reports of the COVID-19 virus, often referred to as coronavirus, health care professionals continue to guard against its possible spread and develop plans of action should it impact a larger majority of the population. On the front lines locally is Piggott Community Hospital, and Tuesday morning the administration provided an update on their efforts to address the pandemic.

“Every day seems to be a new day, and we’re constantly re-visiting what needs to be done here at the local level,” administrator James Magee offered. “What we’ve done is appoint Dr. J.T. Dewitt as our chief medical officer for the hospital, and he’ll be dealing with various medical and clinical problems and part of that is to head-up our task force on the coronavirus.”

Also included on the task force are other staff members, including Tonny Dement, MSN, APRN, the director of clinical services and Shelly Samples, RN, who coordinates issues with infectious diseases along with serving as the trauma program director.

Magee noted the hospital is getting regular updates from a variety of sources, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Arkansas Hospital Association and Arkansas Department of Health.

“The American Hospital Association also puts out a regular update, and we’ve had a weekly call with St. Bernard’s about what they’ve been doing with their hospital, and also their specialty clinics,” Magee added.

The first effort to address the matter came earlier this week, as the main entrance was closed and all visitors to the hospital were forced to enter through the emergency room waiting area.

“We wanted to control the flow and control who is coming into the hospital, and why they’re coming in,” Dr. Dewitt added. “And, we’re trying to educate the people that are coming in.”

Citing the importance of social interaction for patients, Dewitt noted the main concern was the safety of the patients.

“We’re asking them questions as they come through the door, and we’re checking their temperature to see if they have a fever,” he added. “If they are running a fever we’re asking them to go back home and take care of themselves and we’ll take care of their loved ones.”

The hospital is also following the guidelines of the CDC on visitors.

“We’re trying to limit it to one visitor if possible,” Dement added. “That’s one of the CDC recommendations that we’re trying to follow. We don’t have anyone positive for COVID-19, but we do have to test according to the Arkansas Department of Health guidelines. But, we are limiting access through the one entrance and on the number of visitors.”

Magee also noted those who think they may have the virus, or other such illness, should let the staff know they will be visiting the facility.

“If someone is experiencing these symptoms and they need to come to the ER, or visit one of the specialty clinics, we would appreciate them calling ahead and let the personnel know they are coming, and what the symptoms are,” he offered. “That will give us a chance to protect them, and our staff, by isolating them.”

He indicated those wanting to contact the staff could call 870 598-3881 and ask for extension 1306.

The clinic operations are also affected, as the hospital plans to segregate those who are ill from others.

“We plan to see well people in the morning, and sick people in the afternoon,” Dement offered. “Or, if someone is just needing a refill we’re trying to help them without them coming in. But, if we have to see them it will be well people in the morning and sick people in the afternoon.

She also noted the hospital staff would continue to use a “terminal cleaning” process in all patient areas. “We just don’t want people afraid to come in if they need to be seen,” she added.

“Currently, we are testing high-risk individuals as defined by the Arkansas Department of Health,” Dr. Dewitt added. “You would be considered high risk if you have symptoms, such as fever, cough and shortness of break, or if you were around someone with COVID-19, or been exposed to someone or been in a high-risk area.”

Samples also noted the latest information has added to the list, and includes those who are in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons.

“Those are the people who are high risk,” Dr. Dewitt offered. “And, those with a high index of suspicion—if the doctor sees someone who has symptoms and can’t rule it out we would likely test them.”

Dr. Dewitt also reported people will be tested for other respiratory illnesses as well, in an effort to identify anyone contracting the virus.

The health experts also had advice for those wanting to avoid the virus, and other such ailments.

“This is just like any other viral illness,” Dr. Dewitt added. “You know a virus is not like a bacteria. When we’re treating a bacterial illness with antibiotics it actually attacks the bacteria. With a virus, it kind of invades your body and takes over your cells and uses your cells to reproduce copies. And, the more copies of that virus that are in your body, the more symptomatic you become.”

If anyone does contract the virus, most should treat it as any other such malady.

“The CDC will tell you the best treatment is rest, fluids and treating your symptoms,” Dewitt explained. “But, if your symptoms get to the point you can’t manage them at home. If you get to the point you can’t breath, or your fever is so high you can’t get it to come down, that’s the point you need to seek medical attention.”

He also noted those who self-quarantine at home should use extra caution in keeping those who are ill isolated, along with using masks and good hand washing practices.

“The symptoms will generally pass, but if you’re over 65 and have any of the issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes or other disorders such as heart disease you’re at a higher risk of having a poorer outcome,” he added.

Magee echoed the advice of state and federal leaders, encouraging local residents to refrain from travel until conditions improve. Dement also noted the situation is fluid. “we’re meeting every day, and talking about change every day, plus getting updates from the CDC.”

Dr. Dewitt also explained that the virus is not new to the medical community.

“The coronavirus has been around for a long time, but this is a novel strain of the virus that we’ve not seen before,” Dewitt offered. “Just like SARS, it came in and caused a lot of sickness and a lot of death. This has the potential to be worse than that and it has hit us at a time when we weren’t expecting it.”

But, the local healthcare leaders are cautiously optimistic as the response continues.

“Hopefully by doing all the things the president, and the CDC, have proposed then we can hope to slow the progress. And, if we can do that and keep people quarantined it should just fade away,” Dr. Dewitt summarized. “But, until it gets to that point the only way we can control it is to continue doing what we’re doing now—social distancing and making smart decisions.”

Dr. Dewitt also provided the latest numbers from the CDC, indicating 185,067 confirmed cases and 7,330 deaths with over 80,000 fully cured as of mid-morning Tuesday. Those wanting additional information may visit the Centers for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov

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