As health-care facilities prepare for a spike in the number of coronavirus patients, they’re updating their guidelines and imposing limitations on visitors, all in the name of slowing the spread of the virus and keeping their patients, their staff and their visitors safe.

Representatives from Lake Houston’s three health-care facilities, Kingwood Emergency Hospital, Memorial Hermann and HCA Houston Healthcare, were asked a series of questions by The Tribune. Their edited responses:

 What should an individual do before they come to your facility?

Jeremy Brynes, chief executive officer, Kingwood Emergency Hospital: We encourage patients who are potential COVID-19 risks to call ahead.  Patients who are potential risk will be given specific instructions on arrival and check-in procedures, putting on a mask to prevent potential spread, and answering several questions.

Memorial Hermann: Based on CDC guidelines, if you think you may have COVID-19 and are experiencing minor symptoms, Memorial Hermann recommends you self-quarantine at home for at least 14 days and utilize virtual care options to consult with a healthcare provider. For severe symptoms, call ahead to your local emergency eenter prior to arriving or dial 911 if you need emergent care.

Dr. Mujtaba Ali-Khan, chief medical officer, HCA Houston Healthcare: If an individual is experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing – or if they have traveled to an area affected by the current strain of coronavirus – they should first contact their primary care provider.

 When should an individual come to your facility?

Kingwood Emergency Hospital: If an individual develops mild symptoms such as fever, cough and has been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or recently traveled from an area with the ongoing spread of COVID-19, it is best to contact their primary care provider or utilize our new telemedicine option for a virtual visit with a provider. Older patients and individuals who have severe underlying medical conditions or are immunocompromised should seek care early, even if their illness is mild. If you have severe symptoms, such as persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, lethargy, or bluish lips or face, you should seek care at your nearest emergency room or call 911. Our doctor will determine if you have signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and whether you should be tested.

Memorial Hermann: We are encouraging the use of virtual care, where possible. Of course, if patients require emergency care, they should go to the local emergency center and, if possible, call ahead and let them know they are arriving with COVID-19 related symptoms.

HCA Houston Healthcare: As always, individuals should come to the emergency room if they need emergency care or as instructed by their physician.

How have you prepared for these patients – and your staff?

Kingwood Emergency Hospital: We have established a pre-triage process.  Patients sanitize their hands, put on a mask and are directed to an isolated area with access to separate bathroom facilities. Our telemedicine platform will be available this week allowing patients to have a virtual visit with one of our providers from the comfort of home.

Memorial Hermann: We have planned and prepared for dealing with a pandemic, as we do with natural disasters. We have an emergency response plan and dedicated team that leads continuous drills throughout the year.  Our decisions are grounded on our ability to protect the health of everyone and provide high-quality care when and where we can while meeting public safety standards that are helping to establish community-wide solutions.

HCA Houston Healthcare: Our facilities deal with communicable diseases daily. We will continue to take precautionary measures as we always have. We have strong protocols in place and are following all guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure a safe environment:

- Every patient, visitor and vendor is screened outside of our primary lobbies, ER entrances and loading docks.

- Points of entry to our facilities have been limited.

- As we often do during heavy influenza outbreaks, visitor restrictions have been instituted in patient care areas.

- We have done, and continue to do, deep cleaning throughout all our care sites.

- Our Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been activated to coordinate daily communication and response across all our hospitals.

What guidelines or safeguards have you put into place?

Kingwood Emergency Hospital: We have established a separate waiting area for patients who meet the CDC’s criteria. As always, we carefully sanitize and clean all surfaces and rooms. 

Memorial Hermann: Several, including social distancing protocols and modifications to our visitor policy  - all are essential precautionary measures to protect our workforce, patients and community.

HCA Houston Healthcare: We have well-established protocols in place to care for patients with infectious diseases, and we are following CDC guidelines related to COVID-19 cases, including isolating the patient and taking steps to ensure the safety of our patients, employees and visitors.

If an individual is positive for the virus, what happens next?

Kingwood Emergency Hospital: Next steps are dependent on the severity of the illness.  Staff notify the local health department to track the patients recovery. With mild symptoms, patient may be sent home to quarantine and recover for a recommended amount of time.  With more severe symptoms or complications, they may be admitted where they will recover in an isolated setting. They may possibly be transferred to another area facility.

Memorial Hermann: Depending on the patient’s symptoms, the patient may be treated in a hospital or asked to quarantine at home for 14 days.

HCA Houston Healthcare: Depending on the patient’s condition, the individual will either be admitted and treated in a negative pressure room or they will be instructed to self-quarantine at home.

 What policy do you have in place for the families?

Kingwood Emergency Hospital: Our focus during this time is to treat our patients and limit exposure to staff and family. We strongly advise patient families to wait in their vehicle if possible.  We will maintain communication throughout the process.  In case of a minor or extenuating circumstance, we will allow one family member in the treatment room.

Memorial Hermann: As of now, we have modified our visitor policy which allows one visitor per patient. Read more: memorialhermann.org.

HCA Houston Healthcare: Visit hcahoustonhealthcare.com for the latest hospital visitation policies.

 A final comment.

Kingwood Emergency Hospital: Our facility is not a testing site.  Officials are setting up testing sites throughout the city.  Our patients are evaluated by a physician who determines the patient’s risk per CDC guidelines.  High risk patients may be tested, ordered by a physician after an emergency room visit and subject to CDC criteria.

Memorial Hermann: It is our commitment to ensure we are in a position, even during this pandemic, to continue to safely care for greater Houston just as we have done for the past 100 years.

HCA Houston Healthcare: HCA Houston Healthcare hospitals continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and work non-stop, in partnership with local, state and federal government authorities to assure that we continue to take appropriate precautions. We are committed to responding to the needs of our patients in the safest manner necessary. We encourage individuals to visit the Harris County Public Health COVID-19 self-assessment tool at checkforcorona.com to determine if they require further assessment or need to be tested for COVID-19.

For more information about Lake Houston’s health-care facilities, visit memorialhermann.org, hcahoustonhealthcare.com and kingwood247er.com.

Tom Broad
Author: Tom BroadEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Columnist
Besides being a proud graduate of The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, therefore, a Cornhusker, I am retired from Memorial Hermann. I am a correspondent and columnist for Lake Houston's hometown paper, The Tribune, as well as a director of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Corporation, a member of the board of the Humble Area Assistance Ministries, and Volunteer Extraordinaire for the Lake Houston Area Chamber.

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