By Jackie Nelson
MOUNDRIDGE—Lorie Friesen, director of nurses at Mercy Hospital, said the facility “has plenty” of personal protective equipment needed to care for patients exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
“Staff, everyone from the lab to nursing to the front office people, we’ve all had training to better care for these patients that are in very strict isolation situations,” Friesen said.
The hospital has 25 nursing staff and physicians who provide care. Patients are admitted from Partners in Family Care’s six medical doctors and three midlevel practitioners.
According to Friesen, the facility is licensed for 21 beds but has 13 private rooms for patients.
“We have dramatically changed how the hospital operates. Caring for patients with highly infectious disease, the increased training to staff, the dedicated staff to those patients. We don’t want a nurse caring for COVID patients to care for non-COVID patients. We have minimum staffing levels, but if we need to, we staff up,” she said.
Friesen said, while the hospital is not overwhelmed, “we are generally busier,” and patients may experience longer wait times.
The hospital is also a testing site for COVID-19. However, patients must have a referral to be tested for the virus.
“They need to have an order from their primary care doctor. We also ask people bring in identification and insurance information. We do bill insurances for these tests. If they don’t have insurance, they are expected to pay for themselves,” she said.
Testing hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and are first-come, first-served, unless a patient calls ahead and is assigned a testing time.
Friesen also confirmed the hospital has had patients testing positive for COVID-19 ranging from teens to elderly.
“We have done a lot of testing, and at the time of testing, we don’t know if they are positive, but they become a person under investigation until we do have a test result. They are treated like a positive case,” Friesen said.
She stated Mercy Hospital does not give patients lab results, and they will receive information from their physicians or the health department.
However, Friesen said even persons under investigation are often sent home to await results.
“We have had only a few that are admitted to the hospital. A person under investigation needs to quarantine, and that usually happens at home,” she said.
Friesen said, while tests are conducted at Mercy Hospital, results are processed by one of a handful of third-party labs.
“If the labs are keeping up, it’s roughly 48 hours,” she said.
However, last weekend, one of the testing labs suffered an equipment malfunction, “so we were not getting results as quickly—up to four days,” Friesen said.
Friesen said with more testing requests, the longer the results take to process.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to test; it means it fills the system and the results don’t come as quickly,” she said.
For patients arriving in the emergency department displaying symptoms of COVID-19, there is no guarantee of admission.
“There was one where the doctor did IV fluids and sent the patient home rather than admit them to the hospital. They did not meet criteria. We did some IV fluids, and that’s what it took to get them over the worst of it,” Friesen said.
To be admitted, Friesen said a patient must be in respiratory distress, have dropping oxygen levels and possibly complicating conditions, such as lung disease.
According to Friesen, only one person has been readmitted due to COVID-19 complications. “Generally, they’re on the mend before we sent them home,” Friesen said.
Instances where a patient would be transferred from Mercy Hospital to a higher level of care include if a patient needs a ventilator or has consistently decreasing oxygen levels. Transportation to a different hospital would be arranged by Mercy.
“We do have access to COVID treatments, including Remdesivir, which is still considered experimental, but we do have that available also,” Friesen said.
The greatest challenge faced by Mercy Hospital, Friesen said, was keeping personal protective equipment in stock. While the hospital has an “adequate stock” now, “depending on how long this goes, keeping PPE in stock is a challenge. It is less and less available for higher and higher prices.”
Friesen said another concern is if there is a dramatic increase in need.
“If the hospital would be full, and more and more patients would be sick, we would have to divert patients to another facility. That has not happened yet,” she said.
Overall, Friesen said she is confident in the hospital’s current ability to meet Moundridge’s needs.
“Mercy Hospital is here. We are prepared. And we are ready to serve our community,” she said.