Med Center at Albany leader explains preparation maneuvers

Posted March 17, 2020 at 2:08 pm

When thoughts turn to the ever present and ever changing developments surrounding the pandemic situation around the COVID-19 virus outbreak, like people across Kentucky, the nation and the world, residents of Albany are concerned and in many cases, even scared of what might be just down the road in our future.

We realize as the community’s weekly newspaper since 1949, our job isn’t to play the part of fear monger to our readers, nor is it to simply sugar coat the facts in order to make you, our readers, feel good, but instead to present the facts as we can best uncover them and present those facts in the best organized fashion we can.

To those means, we promise our readers and our community that we will continue to serve in this fashion to the best of our ability.

Along those thoughts, the NEWS reached out to the leader of Clinton County’s main health care provider this week, or at least the facility that would be charged with providing our citizens with health care in the event of any emergency or catastrophic event such as this COVID-19 has the potential of reaching.

Laura Belcher, Administrator at The Med Center at Albany, spoke candidly with Clinton County News Editor Al Gibson on Monday afternoon of this week about the work the hospital staff has put in to attaining the highest level of care possible in the event of any outbreak.

Belcher noted that training the hospital staff goes through in order to best be able to address any disaster isn’t something that has just recently been implemented in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, rather something that is approached in various ways throughout the year, every year.

Still, the most recent concerns have been regarding the COVID-19 situation.

“One of the first things we’ve done is we have educated ourselves and our staff and all members throughout the organization have access to a shared folder that keeps us up to date from the CDC as well as other reliable health resources and it talks to them about what are the clinical features, who is at risk for being infected with COVID-19, when is someone infectious, what the recovery time will be, how are we treating COVID-19, who should health care providers notify if they suspect someone is infected, and really just training ourselves and out team to understand everything they can about the virus, so those are some of the things that are addressed in that folder,” Belcher said. “I think that helps them to react better to the public and to our patients in an educated manner.”

She also noted that in addition, the staff at Med Center at Albany has also addressed several issues as directed in the CDC’s Hospital Preparedness Assessment Tool, noting the hospital’s leadership team has worked through that set of curriculum and addressed those outlined elements.

“There are several different sections – it talks about infection prevention and control policies and training, and many of the things that we have followed infectious control-wise for years and years reminds us of how important those procedures and policies are,” Belcher said.

She also said that the facility’s Infectious Disease Leader, Amy Claborn, had completed rounds through every shift to make sure the staff understands the signs of symptoms, how to protect themselves and how to protect others from the COVID-19 virus, adding that they identified also with effectiveness, how to rapidly identify and isolate patients who might be infected.

“Every year we do multiple drills that take us through multiple scenarios that can happen, whether it be related to us being isolated due to severe weather, snow and ice storms, we do scenarios if we lose communication mechanisms,” among others she explained. “So a lot of the techniques and communications that we use is something we have practiced in the drill format several times a year. It’s just a matter of whether it’s a natural disaster, is it something that is biological, or is it something that is utility related – it’s just a process that depends on what the situation is so we are continually in a state of preparedness.”

She also stressed that the COVID-19 situation is something that the facility staff has been concentrating on for the past several weeks.

As far as making physical changes to the hospital structure itself, Belcher said there really hadn’t been any need for structural changes, but they were concentrating on making sure everything was in top working order.

She did note however that she paid particular attention at one point to the hospital waiting room, addressing the recommendation that the public practice what is being called “social distancing” or staying at least six feet away from other people.

“We made sure our lobby and the main part of the hospital had that six foot distance from several seating groups to provide people proper distance for social distancing,” Belcher said. “The other thing we have done that is a part of our every day preparedness is to check our isolation and negative pressure rooms to make sure those are functioning properly and that if we would have a patient that we would need to put into isolation that those rooms are keeping the air in those rooms the way that they are supposed to.”

She added that while those areas are maintained properly on a normal basis, particular notice has been given to them in light of the current COVID-19 situation.

Belcher also said that one particular area of concern that is somewhat out of the control of not only the Med Center, but other health care providers across the nation, is the availability of supplies, and in particular supplies used by the staff themselves for protection.

“Another thing that we have been preparing is the supply chain because a large majority of the personal protective equipment that we use like healthcare gloves, masks, gowns, face masks, those kind of things, those are manufactured in China, so some of those things have been impacted by when they were hit in China by COVID-19 and then they were able to get their supplies up in China, well China needed them and that has reduced our supply and basically we are not getting anything supplied from China at this point in time,” Belcher said. “For several weeks now we’ve been trying to conserve and place orders in an effort to increase our stock on those kinds of things.”

In addition, Belcher said that a new practice she had implemented on the day of this interview, would hopefully help improve communications between all of the local health care providers as well as many of the local officials and leaders.

Patterned after a community meeting hosted last Thursday by the Clinton County office of the Lake Cumberland District Health Department, Belcher said she plans on having a daily informational call that would allow for a live exchange of information.

“I’ve invited health care providers as well as the health department, schools, and community leaders to a daily call where we will give a brief update about each facility and any needs that we may have, any changes in our daily operations that are being impacted from the COVID-19,” Belcher explained.

With this practice, she noted that everyone in the local health care community and the community leaders would be informed on a daily basis as to the current situation – including keeping the Health Department, DES Coordinator Lucas Abner, Judge/Executive Ricky Craig and Albany Mayor Lyle Pierce, among others, informed.

Belcher said that she feels, and certainly hopes, that the local hospital is as prepared for any situation as a facility for a community our size can be.

She pointed out that the situation is changing not only by the day, but by the hour as to the developments with the health care community in dealing with this COVID -19 situation.

“For example we’ve not had to do any testing yet, but the testing facility we would have been using up to this point, which we’ve not had to do any testing yet, we have now changed to a new lab that would give us a quicker turnaround time and we’ve just met on how we are going to make that transition and what paperwork needs to go out if someone does need to be tested,” Belcher said. “Every day it seems like there is a new opportunity and a new challenge for us to develop a solution to make sure our operations are not going to be interrupted.”