The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Guadalupe County continues to rise.
As of Saturday afternoon, the county had received confirmation that 26 residents have tested positive for the coronavirus.
However, six have recovered and the other 20 were at home with mild symptoms, according to county officials.
There could come a time when more severe cases come in, and Guadalupe Regional Medical Center officials said they are prepared.
GRMC Chief Executive Officer Robert Haynes said the local medical facility continues to work — as it has for the past four weeks — to ensure the hospital is taking every precaution to stop the spread and prepare for patients as they arrive.
“I am ensuring we’re all aligned, united with the medical community in how we respond and prepare from an operational standpoint and communicate with all of the local agencies,” he said. “All of the changes are quick, fluid and happening, sometimes hourly and daily.”
The hospital is keeping the lines of communication open with local physicians through Guadalupe Healthcare Network Chief Executive Officer Deana Henk.
“We have employed physicians, as well as hospital providers, that are normally in the building on a regular basis as we change processes to conserve our resources,” Haynes said.
Guadalupe Regional Medical Center is licensed for 156 beds; however, it is staffed for about 100, Haynes said.
“It’s all about staffing those beds as much as it is having the availability of them,” he said.
It also has seven ventilators to assist patients with breathing.
Since the beginning of the month, Guadalupe Regional Medical Center’s incident command went live with Haynes and Rhonda Unruh, GRMC vice president of quality, co-leading.
Unruh’s role within the hospital has her overseeing infection control, which puts her at the head of the table for the COVID-19 crisis.
“I bring that background of infection control, the familiarity with the CDC and their guidelines and recommendations for any type of pandemic or illness,” she said. “It is a lot of what I do for the past few weeks.”
The hospital has looked at a number of scenarios and have put plans in place for a potential influx of patients needing medical care, Unruh said.
“We haven’t implemented these strategies yet, but we have plans in place to handle any surge to our emergency department,” she said. “We have a couple of levels of strategies for that, as well as planning for if we get a surge of COVID cases that need hospitalization — where are we going to house those patients? How are we going to use staff so we can really make sure that care is bundled well?”
The incident command team talks daily about the new guidelines, changes and shares updated information from state and federal authorities.
“Really, every day we huddle, and we look at what is the state of the union for us, how many cases is the nation seeing, how many cases is the state seeing, how many for our area,” Unruh said. “We’re looking closely at our personal protective equipment; we’re looking at staffing resources, making sure that some of the changes outside of us aren’t affecting that. Really, we’re just making sure that we are ready to respond when that happens.”
At the beginning of the April, GRMC created a Public Health Emergency Unit to care for COVID-19 patients, and those patients who are presumptive COVID-19 pending results.
The team speaks with the local emergency management in seeking housing options off campus for non-COVID-19 patients in the event of an influx of patients who test positive for the coronavirus, and the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council about supplies, a recent release said.
"Our emergency preparedness team continues to provide daily updates to STRAC (Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, our emergency council who assist in providing and monitoring resources for our region) regarding availability of facility beds, ventilators, personal protective equipment and supplies," the statement read.
With that, the hospital has implemented several policies and procedures to help keep patients and staff safe, Unruh said.
“We’ve changed quite a bit in how we operate as a healthcare organization,” she said. “Some of that is from CDC guidance, some of that is now guidance that we are getting from our governor and the Texas Medical Board.”
The facility started by limiting the number of visitors on the campus to one per patient and began a screening process.
It quickly changed to eliminating most visitors, with special exceptions, limiting entries into the building, and screening everyone, including staff. The hospital administration has also asked their volunteer corps to stay home.
“We’re screening anyone who enters the building for temperature, respiratory signs and symptoms, any significant travel or exposure history because we’re trying to prevent any exposure risk in the hospital,” Unruh said.
Officials left surgeries considered urgent and necessary scheduled, however, they canceled elective surgeries.
The best thing that the community can do to help stop the spread is adhering to federal and state guidelines of social distancing, Haynes said.
“The virus that we are talking about has been studied pretty hard over the last few months, and it is a weak virus that will not survive if you are capable of social distancing yourself,” he said. “That is one way to combat it; do not let people gather in groups. There is nothing but common sense to the decrees that have come from all levels of the state and county and city standpoint.”
Unruh agreed, adding the virus, when unchecked, can have “devastating effects.”
“We’ve already seen some examples from other countries that have not started any type of social distancing strategies or isolation strategies and the devastating effects that can have not only on the healthcare system but their country as a whole,” she said. “If we can do anything as a community to stop that history from repeating itself, then we should all really try to do that.”
Knowing this is a scary and challenging time for most, Haynes commended the residents for their actions.
“I would like to thank the community for their understanding in this process and for the companies that have assisted us in providing their protective equipment so that we can store that if a surge does occur,” he said. “We certainly appreciate the government officials in doing what they’re doing. But mostly the public for their understanding. I can assure you that we are working tirelessly, regardless if it is a non-COVID issue, we are available to the public to treat them, or for COVID issues that do occur, we do have a plan in place to treat them as well.”