MURRAY — With the 2019 novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, gaining more and more attention in recent days – including suspension or even cancelation of major events across the world – it is important to remember that there are still other illnesses causing problems. 

That was the design behind Murray-Calloway County Hospital establishing a clinic Wednesday specifically for patients suffering from upper respiratory ailments, namely the flu and strep throat. Available in Suite 180 West of Murray Medical Arts, the clinic has seen heavy traffic, with 22 patients being seen Wednesday and another 25 during the morning Thursday. 

“We have a walk-in clinic already, but what we were experiencing was an increase of patients with respiratory illnesses, and all of those have similar symptom profiles to COVID-19,” said MCCH Vice President of Patient Care Jeff Eye, who said the clinic does two things. First, it separates these patients from others who are seeking care for non-respiratory issues. Second, it creates piece of mind. 

And, a third thing, it helps answer a question.

“Our thought with this was asking, ‘OK, is this really an increase in flu activity? Or is it an increase in people who may have stayed home from school or work and thought they were getting better, now with the COVID-19 thing, want to get tested and make sure it is, in fact, the flu or strep?” Eye said. “So what we looked at with this clinic is easy access that is close to an entrance that allows us to keep all of the respiratory illness away from the other patients seeking care for other things and where we can do some environmental things through such things as hepafilters, so the whole clinic is a negative pressure clinic.

“(Hospital Facilities Director) Mark Torsak and his team have done a great job to add hepafilters to that space, but there’s also personal protective equipment (worn by all staff). It’s in a shortage all over the world right now, so one concept we had is that, if we concentrated the respiratory illness to one clinic, it limits the number of staff we need to be having this gear on all of the time. So it’s decreased our need for those supplies so we can keep them in case we see a big outbreak of COVID-19.”

Hospital CEO Jerry Penner said things appear to be running quite efficiently.

“I got a call from a (Murray State University) professor today who said, ‘Hey, I’d like get over there,’ and we have a phone number you can call (270-753-0704) or you can just walk in,” Penner said. “So she called me at 11, walked in for her appointment at 11:30 and by 11:45 she said she already had been swabbed, been taken care of and was going to get her medication. It’s a very efficient way of doing it.

“We’ve got our (parking) valets asking, ‘Are you here for flu-like symptoms?’ and they’re being directed where they need to go.”

“What we’ve done at the entrance is asking patients to put a mask on before entering the building,” Eye said. “We’re handing them masks because they are there for respiratory illness.”

Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nick O’Dell said it is important for anyone suffering from a suspected respiratory illness, such as flu or strep, to seek medical attention.

“People with undiagnosed or untreated strep can progress to a special type of valvular heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, which comes from the same strain as rheumatic fever, which we really don’t see anymore because of the advance in medications like penicillin and other antibiotics. We can do rapid strep screenings,” O’Dell said, moving on to flu. “We have very good treatments for the flu. We have Tamiflu and XOFLUZA, which can also make a difference in how long someone is sick. You can help them get better faster. You can be sick for only three or four days versus seven or eight days, plus you’re not going to be spreading it to other people and you’ll have a quicker recovery to get you back to work or school, things you’re having to take care of in your life.”

O’Dell also said the hospital reached out to the community’s senior living centers and care homes last week to not only give suggestions on how their residents should be handled but to offer services such as in-house visits from personnel with the Murray-Calloway County Ambulance Service. This is an extension of a home visit program launched about two years ago to reduce readmissions at the hospital. 

“This also prevents them from being exposed to pathogens if they have to come to the (emergency department) or the hospital,” O’Dell said. “We send our paramedics to the facility and we can do in-facility testing and triage of those patients. We met with those facilities and discussed it and they seemed to be very appreciative of our guidance as to what they should be doing.”

O’Dell also addressed the hospital’s decision to restrict visitation at Spring Creek Health Care and Skilled Nursing, which it runs. He said that decision was not made without much thought – though he knew that for residents with family members who make frequent visits, this would create a great hardship.

“That’s hard on families and it is the last thing we want to do,” he said, then turning his attention to the alternative. “You definitely don’t want to look back and say, ‘Oh, we should’ve done that differently. We don’t want to find ourselves behind the eight ball and having not done our due diligence for our patients and members of the community.

“We’re trying to be as proactive as possible and do everything we can to get ahead of a situation. And, with this, it always comes back to the same thing. If that was your family member, what kind of approach would you want for that family member in the facility?’” 

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