COVID-19: Creativity, technology, community at heart of rebuilding South Texas healthcare
The shape of healthcare may never be quite the same.
More than two months after the state closed doors, tightened restrictions and braced for a pandemic crossing Texas, health experts – from hospitals, senior care facilities and fitness clubs — are changing the way they do business.
Meeting the public’s needs in the coronavirus era means restoring services – adjusting, adapting, modifying – and relying in parts on patience, creativity and technology, several health care officials said.
In some cases, the crisis revealed what may be more possible in the future.
One within the medical community: telemedicine.
Embraced as a tool for social distancing, its shown additional promise, said Dr. Osbert Blow, president and chief medical officer of Christus Spohn Health Systems.
The footprint of the healthcare system giant extends into dozens of medical facilities in the state, including Corpus Christi, Kingsville and Alice.
“How we do deliver healthcare has been – I think – forever affected,” he said. “And… with the technology that we now have currently available, we may be able to see the development of increasingly more efficient ways of delivering healthcare that are much more appealing to the consumer.”
WHAT TO KNOW ON AREA HOSPITALS
A wide array of practices combating coronavirus spread in local hospitals – universal masking policies, hospital entry screening and increased sanitization, for example – likely won’t be going away any time soon.
Promoting safety has also meant isolating COVID-19 patients to one area of the hospital – and in the case of needed but non-emergency testing, possibly avoiding the hospital altogether.
Corpus Christi’s drive-thru testing, where suspected coronavirus-infected patients can have their samples collected, “has been a tremendous win for us,” Blow said.
Elective surgeries returned starting in mid-April, following several weeks ordered offline by Gov. Greg Abbott. The move had been in anticipation of overwhelmed medical facilities treating a coronavirus surge that hadn’t occurred as of mid-May.
Safe care surgery has been an important prong in rolling out those services, Christus Spohn officials have said – the process using antibody testing to help inform whether patients should move forward with medical procedures immediately or further evaluated.
COVID-19: Christus Spohn unveils rapid tester that can analyze 1,000 samples in one hour
The hospital recently acquired Cephid GeneXpert Infinity 48, a device capable of analyzing 1,000 samples within 24 hours.
As services restored at Corpus Christi Medical Center and Christus Spohn, both ventured into studying experimental treatments for the novel virus – namely, convalescent serum therapy.
An old method of fighting other serious infections, the therapy transfuses sick patients with the plasma of recovered patients. The idea is the antibodies developed by the recovered patients could help sick patients recover faster.
“This trial is just the first step, but hopefully it will help us determine if plasma transfusions can be a treatment for critically ill patients with COVID-19,” stated Dr. Eric Deppert, chief medical officer at Corpus Christi Medical Center, in a news release issued in early May.
New and existing precautions have positioned CCMC “to care for those who have been patiently waiting for medically necessary surgeries and procedures which, in many cases, can change and save a life,” wrote spokeswoman Lisa Robertson in an email to the Caller-Times.
RULES FOR SENIOR LIVING CENTERS
Entering the most recent phase of COVID-19 management among those most threatened by the virus: mass testing at Texas nursing homes.
Ordered by Abbott in early May, all staff and residents of nursing homes were expected to be tested for coronavirus, regardless of whether a case has been suspected.
As of mid-May, visitors not providing critical services were still blocked under state order from coming inside certain senior care communities – to include assisted living facilities – leaving many families forced to connect without physical contact.
Gatherings within facilities – group dining and activities – were also restricted.
CDC guidelines have been strongly followed and there weren’t any known or suspected coronavirus cases at Elan Corpus Christi – licensed as an assisted living home, not a nursing home – but the fire department had recently been in touch about the possibility of future large-scale testing, said Misty Miller, Civitas chief operating officer, in mid-May.
She added that there have been protocols in place to prevent cases and respond if one were identified.
Maintaining safety on the campus while keeping residents in contact with families – and engaged, day-to-day – has been challenging but also spurred resourcefulness, Miller said.
Technology, like Facetime, has played an important role for families to visit, Miller said – it’s how one resident was able to see her great-granddaughter for the first time – as well as lower-tech options like window visits.
They have also taken up new ways for residents to socialize – doorway bingo, for example, where a staff member calls out bingo numbers and residents play without emerging from the doorways, she said.
Considerations are underway for what reopening will look like, when the time comes.
Eventually resuming visits could mean changes like installing partitions in dining rooms, and for family visits, crafting different spaces that might also include partitions, Miller said.
“I think it is going to create a need for more innovation and some changes in building structure and design so we can keep residents safe,” she said. “But again, allow them to visit with family members and allow them to have that sense of community.”
HOW GYMS TOOK ACTION
More options for proactive healthcare were on the way as of mid-May, with gyms given the governor’s blessing to reopen in a limited capacity on the 18th.
Coronavirus has put a spotlight on the value of cardiovascular and respiratory health, said Fowler Mitchell, general manager of the gym Landshark Fitness.
With an initial open at 25 percent occupancy, he planned for a gym reopen as soon as the state allowed – at 5 a.m. that Monday.
Like other businesses, the beginning phases have been foreign territory for the fitness center – social distancing, gloves and amped up sanitizing stations – but Mitchell was optimistic of successful days ahead.
It’s more than just a space for staying in shape, Mitchell said – after weeks of social distancing, people crave a sense of community, and “there’s really not a more beautiful way to socialize.”
“The core of the values, the friendship, is based on health…. and I think that it is very important,” he said. “It’s more important now than ever.”
What to expect
* Hospitals: universal masking, screenings on entry, isolation of COVID-19 patients
* Senior care homes: mass coronavirus testing, steps for reopening unclear
* Gyms: 25 percent occupancy, sanitizing stations, restrooms open but showers and locker rooms closed