Hospital adds new COVID-19 rooms

An increase last month in positive COVID-19 cases on the lower Kenai Peninsula prompted South Peninsula Hospital to revise and remodel its pandemic response plan. The hospital has made several changes or modifications to its facilities.

Some of the changes, according to Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro, include:

• The addition of three more negative-pressure rooms in the inpatient wing for COVID-19 patients. That brings the total number of rooms to eight and, with two beds to a room, 16 beds. Last Wednesday, Lakeshore Glass installed panels and glass to seal the rooms.

• Installation of a temporary, exterior X-ray lab near the main entrance for COVID-19 or suspected patients. That means patients with COVID-19 symptoms can get X-rays without entering the hospital, Ferraro said, and saves on cleaning and personal protective equipment.

“It’s just a great, COVID-safe workaround,” she said.

• Set up home health care workers to do blood draws in a patient’s home if they’re isolating with COVID-19.

“This is kind of a new norm nationwide for health care,” Ferraro said. “The rest of people’s health care needs don’t end because COVID is here. We’re creating systems to keep everybody safe and everybody cared for.”

The modifications have come about as hospital leaders have gained a better understanding of how to treat COVID-19 and how to follow the changes in the pandemic. When the hospital geared up in April in anticipation of a possible surge in cases, it added new non-COVID rooms elsewhere in the hospital, such as in the Physical Therapy department, and built an alternate care site at Christian Community Church to treat patients with moderate symptoms. That alternate site is still available, but with fewer cases than anticipated, COVID-19 patients with moderate symptoms can be treated in the new negative-pressure rooms.

“We were basing this on what we saw in Italy and New York,” Ferraro said of the original plan. “Our plans were based on masses.”

Moderate and severe COVID patients have been and can be treated at South Peninsula Hospital, but if a person’s condition gets worse, they can be medevaced to Anchorage hospitals. Guardian Flight Alaska, an air ambulance service, periodically stages medevac helicopters on the hospital’s helipad. Ferraro said the helicopter and crews will come and go as they stage, and that this does not necessarily mean a patient is being transported.

The hospital added negative-pressure rooms in the inpatient wing — the main curved wing visible at the front of the hospital — after the surge in COVID-19 cases in early June caused by celebrations and group gatherings related to the Memorial Day weekend, private graduation events and the start of summer.

“We realized the first couple of weeks of June what happens when there’s many outbreaks,” Ferraro said. “That’s when we realized we need an interim solution. We want to provide the best care possible if and when we can, which means maintaining care right here in the inpatient unit.”

In an email, since the pandemic began, five patients with COVID-19 have been hospitalized at South Peninsula Hospital. With COVID-19 patients in the hospital, that also has meant some changes in non-COVID patient activity.

“We’re communicating with non-COVID patients to be able to make sure they understand the importance of staying in their room and not wandering the halls, not going out and visiting with people, and understanding the importance of staying confined in the actual room they’re being treated in,” Ferraro said.

At the same time, she emphasized “that people understand they will not be exposed in this hospital and there are numerous methods and safeguards in place to protect people,” she said.

Most other areas of the hospital are back to pre-COVID arrangements. The Physical Therapy department has moved back into its space on the bottom floor of the Long Term Care wing. The Infusion Center was moved outside the hospital to a building nearby and remains there. Behavioral Health was moved into the hospital and will stay there until new space can be remodeled in the office building at 4201 Bartlett Street, where speciality clinics are now held and that the hospital leases. Behavioral Health will soon be offering in-patient services after offering telehealth visits.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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