About this post: Floyd Medical Center on Saturday shared a report tracking the first coronavirus patient it treated — a 46-year-old Polk County woman who had returned from a business trip in Washington, D.C. The article appears under the byline of Kurt Stuenkel, President and CEO, of the hospital and carries a March 16 date. It confirms some earlier reports about how the region’s public health director had to push for the needed coronavirus test.
Floyd has since seen and admitted additional coronavirus cases. At one point, 20 Floyd healthcare workers were on self-quarantine after earlier exposure to an then-undiagnosed patient. We’ll check on their fate later today.
Media release: Our experience with the COVID-19 coronavirus is early and continuing to evolve. We still have a long way to go. This Connect to Purpose story recognizes a very significant sequence of events in caring for our first COVID-19 patient almost two weeks ago – the first in northwest Georgia.
The events unfolded quickly, unpredictably and remarkably:
Our patient visited Floyd twice, returning the second time with worsening symptoms. On both occasions our patient did not meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 testing guidelines, which were strictly controlled due to a national shortage of tests. Several of our physicians voiced their concern that our patient should be tested and treated as potentially contagious.
Radiologists from Rome Radiology saw that the patient’s diagnostic imaging tests were similar to COVID-19 findings they had seen in their literature. The radiologists advised a cautious approach, and Dr. Gary Voccio, the new medical director of public health for our region, agreed, advising that we should be cautious and admit our patient to our infectious disease unit. She was cared for by Dr. Dan Valancius and other Floyd personnel utilizing strict isolation precautions.
Meanwhile, Dr. Voccio lobbied to get permission for our patient to have one of the scarce tests available. Our patient was tested, and two days later, we learned from the DPH that the results were “preliminarily positive.” We were then instructed that the CDC had to corroborate these findings with their own test. We received COVID-19 positive confirmation from the CDC four days after our patient was admitted.
Our patient had coronavirus. Had we followed the public health guidelines in place when our patient presented in our ECC, we might have admitted our patient to a general medical floor. Hundreds of staff, physicians and others would have been exposed. Many, many clinicians and others would have had to quarantine themselves. Further, others in the community might have had exposure and the disease could have spread from this.
Radiologists Constantinos Spyris M.D., Matthew McClain M.D. and Kirk Kizziah M.D. and their colleagues provided expert care and advice for this patient and provided the key information that kept that event from happening. They saved us. Further, they helped to put in place a diagnostic decision tree that now helps us to identify patients under investigation for COVID-19 more quickly. Their work, along with the efforts of our emergency physicians, hospitalists and clinical experts, resulted in care that prevented a much broader community spread of a disease that is proving to be dangerous.
That first patient was the catalyst for a new reality for our community and our organization. From late-night meetings and communications plans to new processes to limit exposure and address staffing challenges, Floyd employees and physicians have gotten up early and worked late to provide the best possible care to all our patients, not just those diagnosed with coronavirus. Daily meetings have produced new ideas and outside-the-box thinking that have led to strategies to address the pandemic head-on.
These extraordinary efforts started with the insistence of passionate physicians to test a patient who did not meet the federal or state requirements for testing, but whose diagnostic images revealed troubling signals, and grew from there:
- Using the Northeast wing, formerly the Kindred Hospital building, to create a new 27 bed care unit for isolation, adding these 27 beds to the 20 negative pressure rooms we already have
- Enacting strict visitation rules, limited entrances and screenings at Floyd entrances
- Reassuring the community with messages about coming into contact with health care workers in public, self-protection, talking with children and spiritual and emotional care
- Regular town hall meetings to hear from staff and to answer questions
- New HR policies to care for our staff
- Monitoring supplies and providing daily updates on protocols, availability and business operations
- The decision to suspend elective procedures in order to conserve our supplies for what is yet to come
In the midst of addressing the compelling and immediate needs of delivering health care to patients infected with this virus, there were – and still are – daily decisions and efforts that are critical to public health and personal healing. It is reassuring and a point of pride to know that right here in our community, our radiologists were exactly correct in their advice for the care of our first patient. They saved us from a potential calamitous situation. They are among the first in the nation to recognize and establish ways to diagnose patients who might contract this disease from a community setting. We are thankful.
In this emerging and difficult situation, it is amazing to witness our staff draw from the deep reservoir of their commitment to care. You can see it in their eyes. They will do what is needed to care for our patients and our community. They are bringing their best with ideas and suggestions, and are rolling up their sleeves.