Amid growing numbers of COVID-19 cases in East Hawaii, Hilo Medical Center as of Monday had 10 patients admitted with the virus.
Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO, Hawaii Health Systems Corp., which includes HMC, said the number has steadily increased over the last week, but prior to that, the hospital hadn’t had any COVID-19 patients.
In planning for a surge of patients at the start of the pandemic, much was unknown, but Brinkman said HMC has since learned a lot about how to treat those with COVID-19.
Treatment protocols have been refined, he said, “and our hospital knows (what) medications to prescribe and when, and treatments that work best.”
If there is a silver lining to seeing increased COVID-19 cases later than other states, it’s that HMC is able to learn from others’ experiences, Brinkman said.
“It’s not new,” he said. “There is a lot of information out there, and we’ve designed our management plan around the latest best practices in how to manage these patients. That’s been a positive.”
According to Brinkman, HMC has access to the latest medications, is stocked up on personal protective equipment and has created COVID-19 “care areas,” or pods, where patients are separated from others and treated.
Currently, four of the 10 patients are in the hospital’s ICU, while the remaining six in non-ICU beds. None are on ventilators.
“Those areas are expandable,” Brinkman said. “If we do get more patients, we enlarge those areas. We have a multi-stage plan we’ve updated over the last few months and … we feel like we’re very prepared.
“We’re hopeful we (won’t) get overwhelmed in the next few weeks. We can handle what we have now, plus some, but there’s a limit. Again, we’re hopeful it kind of levels off and we’re able to manage demand.”
While he didn’t provide specific numbers, Brinkman said HMC can handle “quite a bit more” COVID-19 patients.
HMC, however, must also address the community’s regular health care needs.
“Combined, we have some capacity to care for both groups, but again, it really is a function of capacity,” Brinkman said. “We don’t want our hospital to get overwhelmed, but you should also be confident our hospital can care for those patients and care for them well.”
The hospital’s current response plan is dependent on the number of COVID-19 admissions.
At the current levels, Brinkman said HMC will continue its limited visitation for inpatients and elective surgeries, but if the numbers increase and reach a certain threshold, the hospital likely will scale back visitation and elective surgeries.
“I think it’s going to be a little tricky here over the next couple of weeks,” Brinkman said of the recent spike in Hawaii Island numbers and community spread of the virus.
The community as a whole had been compliant with a lot of the safeguards initially implemented to slow the spread of the disease, which is why the island initially saw low numbers, he said.
But the community is now seeing the consequences of loosened restrictions, Brinkman said.
“I don’t necessarily advocate that we go into some full lock-down again,” he said. “I think we have to find the middle ground here, allowing our economic activities to continue, to stay out of large groups and limit our social gatherings, but still go to work and do business and take care of one another … and get to a steady state of some COVID positive and some hospitalizations, but at a level we can sustain … .”
HMC also is continuing random employee testing. Nearly 200 employees tested earlier this month, before the current spike in cases, were negative for COVID-19.
Any staff working with COVID-19 patients also can be tested regularly as part of the surveillance program.
Brinkman said it also is likely that if the surge continues, HMC will do a targeted testing of those working with COVID-19 patients.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.