Hilo hospital eyes testing for all admissions

  • BRINKMAN

  • FILE - In this April 2, 2020, file photo, registered nurses Jonathan Fisk, left, and Patrick LaFontaine set up a COVID-19 testing station for pre-screened pediatric patients outside a Children’s Health PM Urgent Care facility in Richardson, Texas. Hilo Medical Center is planning to implement additional testing to assure patients and staff will be safe from COVID-19. Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO, Hawaii Health Systems Corp., said the goal is to start testing every person admitted to the hospital by the middle of this week.

Hilo Medical Center is planning to implement additional testing to assure patients and staff will be safe from COVID-19.

Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO, Hawaii Health Systems Corp., said the goal is to start testing every person admitted to the hospital by the middle of this week.

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HMC also is working on a surveillance program for its employees, “so that we can tell the community with some scientific certainty that our caregivers are COVID-free, so when patients come to our hospital, they don’t have to worry about catching COVID from our staff.”

COVID-19 tests are now required before elective or pre-planned procedures, and Brinkman said those results can now be turned around in 24 hours.

Many places in the country, including Hawaii, did not get the predicted surge of COVID-19 patients, Brinkman said, but the reality is that the respiratory disease, which was first detected late last year, will remain a threat.

“… ‘Chronic COVID’ is our life now, not only in the hospital, but how we function in the community, how we function at home,” Brinkman said. “(HMC is) trying to figure out, as primary health care provider for our community, how to function in this new environment and how to care for patients safely and protect employees.”

Many hospitals in the state and throughout the country are trying to determine best practices, he said.

“We really believe our health care should fit our local population … ,” Brinkman said.

Procedures for handling patients are being reviewed to minimize social interaction and maintain social distancing, but still allow for interaction with providers.

For example, Brinkman said the hospital is considering a process where they “direct room” clinic patients, rather than have them wait in a crowded waiting room.

A substantial portion of interactions with providers in the coming months also will be done via telemedicine, he said.

“We’re planning and setting up the infrastructure to be able to do this,” Brinkman said.

Some restrictions and policies already in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 might not change until there’s a vaccine, Brinkman said. Policies for masks, social distancing and “structured visitation” will be around indefinitely.

In an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, HMC last month implemented a no-visitor policy and began requiring everyone entering the hospital to wear a mask.

“When it comes to visitation, we understand how much of a hardship it is for both the patients and their families to have to deal with hospitalization and not be able to visit their loved ones,” Brinkman said. “And what we are trying to come up with is a way to have a very structured and controlled visitation that’s safe for the patients as well as the staff. We’re not there yet, but (we are) trying to figure out how to do that in a positive manner.”

The goal is to change the visitor policy at about the same time the county and state begin to open up more of the economy and loosen restrictions on people’s interactions, he said.

HMC also is taking other steps to improve safety for patients and staff.

A cleaning crew was hired specifically to clean high-touch and high-traffic areas.

Brinkman said, too, that a higher level of screening for people entering the hospital was implemented, and HMC is doing a facilities assessment to see where it can change the existing infrastructure and layout to increase safety.

Brinkman said HMC will need patience from the patients.

“We’ll need understanding as we work through this process, but we definitely want (individuals) to come in and get their care,” he said.

Avoiding doing so could cause their overall health to suffer, he said.

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Brinkman, however, said the hospital’s plans will continue to evolve, “probably until we get a vaccine, because all of us are figuring out how to live with it.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.