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Murray-Calloway County Hospital: Hoping For The Best While Preparing For The Worst

Murray-Calloway County Chamber of Commerce

Murray-Calloway County Hospital leaders say they’re implementing new protocols to prepare for a peak breakout of the Coronavirus. In today’s conference call hosted by the local chamber of commerce, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nicholas O’Dell said the hospital has certain trigger points which move the next phases into action. 


“The reassuring thing to the community that we want to get out in this time of uncertainty is that we are, again, hoping for the best but we’ve planned for the worst and we are attempting to stay two steps ahead of our current situation.”


O’Dell says an entire floor of the hospital was re-engineered as a negative pressure isolation unit designed specifically for treating critical patients who test positive for COVID-19. He said the engineering allows for a complete air change in the unit eight times per hour. He noted that wasn’t a requirement of the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s something the hospital took upon itself to implement. 


Now that the hospital has switched to a lab in Alabama, O’Dell said they’re receiving COVID-19 test results in a 24-hour time frame--24 hours from the time the lab picks up the tests from the hospital. But because a limited availability of tests is an ongoing issue, he said patients are being screened before the tests are administered. 


When asked about the rapid-result testing, O’Dell said those tests don’t offer the same reliability as the longer-result tests. The rapid result tests, he said, only identify a positive case as positive about 80 percent of the time.


MCCH currently has 10 ventilators available and ready for use, O’Dell said, and they typically only have one or two at a time in use in the intensive care unit (ICU). He said engineers with the hospital are looking into transitioning other machinery into ventilators--but that shouldn’t decrease the community’s diligence in preventative measures. 


“If Calloway has 38,000-39,000 residents, what percentage we can tolerate getting sick at one time and requiring critical care, it doesn’t take a whole lot of people to become a tidal wave for us so I would go back to the idea that prevention is the best way to fix this,” he explained.


O’Dell said he’s heard reports New York is calling for 30,000 ventilators and the military is stepping up to help engineer them. But he said it’s more than just the ventilators--there are additional parts and tubing that have to be part of the machinery, enough electricity to power them and enough oxygen supply for the machines to do their job. 


MCCH Chief Nursing Officer Jeff Eye noted the survival rate for the COVID-19 patients who require the ventilator for treatment is a meager 50 percent.


“Ventilators are not the answer,” he added. “When you’re at that point you’ve already sort of lost the battle to mitigate.” 


Eye predicted that in the near future, what we will see across national news is an abundance of ventilators but a shortage of oxygen and other necessary components for operation--which he said is why Calloway County needs to stay the course in preventative measures. 


Eye said the hospital saw a tremendous influx of patients with respiratory issues including influenza and strep in early March, but the spread has slowed in the past few weeks. 


“We’re well below the curve at this’s a pretty good indicator people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”


Eye said Calloway County hasn’t seen a person-to-person spread yet, which is also indicative of the community, for the most part, heeding the social distancing guidelines from health and governmental officials. He said there have been five cases confirmed in Calloway but only four were local residents; of the four Calloway residents, he said one made contact in Tennessee and one made contact during a Spring Break trip to Florida.


“It’s not a medical correction issue, this is a public health issue and it can only be controlled by people doing the right thing and making the right choices,” he added.


O’Dell said the hospital has received a number of donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) and offers of more to come--but they’re starting to run out of storage space. He asked those with equipment they want to donate to hang onto it for now, saying the hospital will let the community know when they need it. 


MCCH Chief Executive Office Jerry Penner ended the call with local business leaders by acknowledging the hardship on local businesses.


“I know this is very difficult and the financial hits are enormous, but you’re giving us a fighting chance to make sure we don’t become a New York or an Italy,” he said. “Hopkins County had 24 cases come out of one, single sitting. There were two deaths associated with that revival also. The reason it hasn’t hit us here is because of you.”

Rachel’s interest in journalism began early in life, reading newspapers while sitting in the laps of her grandparents. Those interactions ignited a thirst for language and stories, and she recalls getting caught more than once as a young girl hiding under the bed covers with a flashlight and book because she just couldn’t stop reading.
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