Updated: Nursing Homes, Hospitals Implement Virus Precautions

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Early Thursday morning, Mercy Health’s St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital erected a yellow tent near the entrance to its emergency room. Tents like the one pictured above typically serve as alternative outdoor spaces to screen patients for COVID-19 without bringing them and their germs inside the hospital.

A representative of the health system’s Great Lakes Group, which includes Youngstown, said it had no comment on the tent or the status of the patient Mercy Health treated at St. Joseph Hospital Warren Hospital.

Wednesday evening Mercy Health Youngstown reported in a statement to the press that it “had cared” for someone who subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. And this afternoon, the Ohio Department of Health confirmed that the patient at St. Joe’s, a 55-year-old man, is the fifth person in Ohio to test positive for the novel coronavirus.

Ohio is currently testing 52 people who have shown symptoms of respiratory distress and has cleared another 30 people, according to the Associated Press.

A spokesman for Steward Health Care, which operates Trumbull Regional Medical Center in Warren, Sharon Regional Medical Center in Sharon, Pa., and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Warren, said it “continues to prepare for the likelihood that patients with coronavirus infections will require treatment at our facilities.”

Steward says it has implemented a number of precautionary measures:

  • Daily strategy meetings to review the latest information and recommendations being issued by the CDC and the State of Ohio & Pennsylvania;
  • Implementation of coordination protocols in place to effectively communicate with public health officials;
  • Implementation of an emergency management operational and staffing plans in case of an escalating outbreak; 
  • Maintaining sufficient levels of personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, gowns, eye protection, etc.) and hand hygiene supplies;
  • Rapid triage procedures in place to promptly identify and isolate suspected patients;
  • Creation of a surge capacity isolation area within the hospital; and, 
  • Restricted visitor policies.

Salem Regional Medical Center today urged anyone who is ill to not visit patients and instead practice social distancing. The health care system is limiting patient visitors to two immediate family members of signifcant others per patient. And SRMC is requesting that all non-essential public foot traffic into the hospital be curtailed until further notice, such as those attending support groups or who come only to dine in the cafeteria.

“The best way to break potential chains of transmission is by preventing infected people from coming in close contact with healthy ones,” said Lyn Pethtel, SRMC director of quality improvement and infection control. “Our focus is on preventing viruses from reaching our staff and our patients, who may be the most vulnerable due to their underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems.”

And Thursday afternoon, Akron Children’s Hospital announced it was immediately effecting new visitation rules, allowing just two visitors daily per patient, according to a release. No siblings or other children younger than 18 will be permitted, “and do not visit if you are sick. We encourage parents not to bring siblings to primary care and outpatient appointments,” the hospital said.

Additionally, campuses in Akron and Boardman are limiting entry points and will screen visitors for illness, travel history and exposure to the COVID-19 strain. Large, heated tents at emergency rooms at both campuses will be erected to expand capacity if needed. Further, volunteers will be limited to those younger than 60, and the Doggie Brigade is temporarily suspended.

Meanwhile, skilled nursing facilities in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys are joining their counterparts across the nation in taking measures to protect residents in light of COVID-19, and they expect more measures to be implemented as soon as Friday.

For instance, at Hampton Woods in Poland, the facility essentially is on lock-down. Visitation is limited to one family member per patient, and before entering the facility they are screened and their temperature taken, a precaution the nursing home industry is adopting nationwide.

The adjoining Center for Rehabilitation at Hampton Woods stopped providing out-patient treatment effective today, according to a patient who routinely receives physical and occupational therapy there.

In Youngstown, Heritage Manor nursing home and Levy Gardens Assisted Living likewise are limiting visitation, based on guidelines set by the Ohio Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Gov. Mike DeWine, says Eric Murray, executive director for senior services.

On Wednesday, DeWine advised nursing homes to limit visits to one person daily for each resident. For nursing homes in counties directly affected by COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus, or adjacent to those that are affected, “those are the policies they are going to be following,” Murray says.

Exceptions are made for end-of-life or emergency situations, he adds.

Heritage Manor is also increasing surveillance of residents, staff, vendors and anyone with “either an operational or a clinical necessity to be in the building,” he says. “We’re asking them screening questions as well as taking their temperature to make sure that they’re not feverish.”

The facilities, operated by the Youngstown Jewish Federation, have sent letters and called residents and their families, informing them of changes in visitation policy. Staff is receiving training on disease transmission precautions, personal protective equipment, hand hygiene and told not to come to work if they are ill, “as well as reinforcing the alcohol-based hand rubs,” Murray says.

Thursday morning, the corporate office of Shepherd of the Valley was in meetings to review what additional policies it would implement at its senior care facilities in Boardman, Howland, Poland and Niles, according to Rachel Ellis, admissions and marketing coordinator at Howland location.

“We’re probably going to start all of that tomorrow,” she says.

“Right now, we’re still in the process of coming up with them. We have a log in for all visitors who are coming in and out of our location. We have hand sanitizer stations set up in the entryway.”

Pictured at top: Mercy Health’s St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital sets up a yellow tent near the entrance to its emergency room.

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