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With the COVID-19 outbreak upending life across the country, Forsyth County's only hospital, Northside Hospital Forsyth, has had to make significant measures to keep up with the changes.
As of Friday afternoon, 60 cases of the novel coronavirus were reported from Forsyth County, with more than 5,800 cases confirmed across the state. Forsyth County has reported a single death due to the disease, while 184 have died statewide.
The hospital was brought up by Forsyth County Commissioners during their regular meeting on Thursday evening, which was held by teleconference. District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills kicked off the discussion by asking Chris Grimes, the county's emergency management director, to dispel rumors surrounding the hospital.
“I've been getting a lot of emails and people calling with just rumors that our hospital was being overrun, and that they couldn't take any more patients and things that were not true at all, and I asked Chris if he would speak to it tonight,” Mills said.
Grimes said he didn't want to speak for the hospital but said his office has been in day-to-day contact with officials at Northside.
“I will say Northside is prepared, prepared as we can be as the information changes each and every day,” Grimes said. “As you know... minute-to-minute, things are changing, but we are working with those, we are looking at the modeling that is coming out and working with the hospital each and every step of the way.”
Since the meeting was held by teleconference with commissioners on video from their homes, commissioners were able to get a unique perspective from Dr. Scott Cooper, a neurologist at Northside and husband of District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper.
Scott Cooper said the hospital has plans to use a part of the hospital formerly used for the ICU to be converted back to that purpose if needed. He told commissioners that 10 patients in the ICU were positive for the novel coronavirus as of the meeting.
“We have negative pressure antechambers, if you will, going into the ER [to limit the spread of germs out of the room]. There are also two units on the floor – 4 central and 5 central – that are both negative pressure, and that's where the potential COVID-19 patients are being housed,” he told commissioners. “The hospital is about a third empty. They're purposefully doing that. The ICU holds 24 patients. They had seven empty beds [Thursday] morning, when I rounded.”
Molly Cooper also responded to the rumor that the hospital was full by saying it had a lower daily average of patients than normal.
“If you think about it, it was asked that anything that is non-essential surgery to not be done," Molly Cooper said. "I'm sure that there has been a lot of reduction in outpatient procedures, so again, it's my understanding that the census is low at the hospital, by no means full."
Northside officials told Forsyth County News they are not providing updated numbers of cases of patients with COVID-19.
During the commission meeting, Mills said she understood the reticence but felt the figures would help limit the spread of rumors.
“I understand why they're hesitant to come out with numbers, because patients come from other counties, so if you say that we have 14 patients, that doesn't mean those 14 are Forsyth County or how long they've been in,” she said, “but I've seen other reportings by hospitals that do put numbers out... I think, in a way, some of the things that are being said that are not true, you could say, 'That's not true. Look at these [figures.]”
On Friday, Northside Hospital Forsyth Administrator Lynn Jackson told FCN in a statement about what steps hospital officials were taking to limit the spread of the disease, including keeping an eye on supplies, converting rooms and putting staff where they're needed most.
“Supporting and protecting our front-line providers and caregivers is a top priority," Jackson said in her statement. "What they are being asked to do is unprecedented. We have dozens of clinical and administrative leaders who, on a daily basis, assess our bed capacity, staffing, surge plans, PPE supplies, ventilator capacity and other needs. We have identified areas of the hospital that can be converted to additional isolation rooms. We have a staff redeployment process that enables us to assign people to the most needed areas.
“We are actively monitoring PPE inventories across our system to ensure that we have adequate supplies. Northside surgeons, following new guidelines from the American College of Surgeons, are carefully reviewing all elective procedures and postponing those that can be safely delayed.”
Jackson said the hospital has also re-evaluated its visitation policy and that most network providers were offering telehealth meetings to limit the spread of disease between patients and medical staff.
More information on Northside's response to the coronavirus pandemic can be found at Northside.com/COVID19.