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Calling for caution

Posted on March 20, 2020

Health care providers, officials ask public to remember community responsibility during coronavirus pandemic

By Siandhara Bonnet
Staff Writer

Thursday, March 19, 2020 

Health care professionals and public, city and county officials want the community to be safe and healthy, but to also realize life and everyday events still go on even in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

State Rep. Matthew Shepherd, Union County Sheriff Ricky Roberts, Union County Judge Mike Loftin, representatives from SAMA, the Medical Center of South Arkansas, Health Unit, InterFaith Health Clinic and others gathered for an informative meeting on coronavirus Wednesday.

All who spoke stressed the importance of being cautious about their surroundings and self-quarantine, and that although tests are becoming more available, patients with other medical conditions still need treatment.

“This is the first time that we’ve had the opportunity to really look at health care as a community resource,” said Pete Atkinson, chief executive officer at SAMA.

Atkinson said he has two major concerns: the protection of our service providers as well as overflowing emergency rooms.

“Yes they are ready, but the reality is if everybody shows up at one time, it will bog (the hospital) down,” Atkinson said.

He said SAMA has sectioned off part of the building with one entrance where they bring in one patient at a time for whoever has a fever. They’re asking patients to wait in their cars until they get a phone call. Then they’re able to proceed into the building for their need, return to their car and then wait on results for whatever the patient was there for.

Atkinson also said SAMA is working on getting approved for telemedicine and speaking with health care providers for ways to bill patients.

“What I’m hearing is don’t automatically go to the emergency room,” he said. “Save the emergency room for emergencies, and I think that’s critical.”

Atkinson also said SAMA was unable to send any COVID-19 samples until this week.

He said if they took a sample from a patient today and sent it to a lab’s location, they could receive results as early as three days or it could take up to 10.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other officials announced during a media briefing Wednesday that an increased number of cases are expected as more testing becomes available. The state saw 11 new cases by Wednesday afternoon, which were detected for the first time in Washington, Faulkner and Bradley counties.

However, Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said most of the cases were travel-related or connected to other known cases — during the meeting at St. John’s, state Rep. Matthew Shepherd shared the same information.

Alex Bennett, director of business development for MCSA, said the hospital has taken inventory of its supplies and is prepared for whatever is necessary.

She said the hospital has spoken with other hospitals that have patients that tested positive for COVID-19 to find out what works best for them and what challenges they have run into.

Jill Temple, executive director with Interfaith Clinic, addressed uninsured, low-income population concerns with the coronavirus pandemic. She said those classified in that category are vulnerable and have the least amount of access to care and resources.

She said Interfaith’s immediate actions are rescheduling non-urgent patients and issuing chronic patients medicines and supplies to keep them out of emergency rooms. Temple said they’re also looking into telemedicine to provide more accessible care.

She said a lot of patients she has heard from are worried about testing. Temple said Interfaith doesn’t have enough personal protective equipment to test people on-site.

She said Interfaith is encouraging their patients to self-quarantine and to call ahead. If it’s urgent, though, she said people should still seek care.

Union County Sheriff Ricky Roberts said the jail is making day-to-day changes to best care for the inmates. He said they identified those with weaker immune systems and isolated them, and released about 12-13 inmates with misdemeanor arrests, although they still have court dates.

He also said the sheriff’s office will continue to keep the peace and perform their jobs, although it may be over the phone or from a 6-foot distance. However, if someone calls and requests a deputy at their door, they will show up.

Union County Judge Mike Loftin said a disaster emergency was called in order for the county to benefit from state resources like personal protective gear.

He also said the county courthouse will be closed Friday morning for the safety of county employees and the public, although people will be able to use services online or over the phone. However, those that need to go to the courthouse will still be able to do so by appointment.

El Dorado Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer, who attended the meeting but was not a planned speaker, said the city is also taking precautions by closing City Hall to the public as well as closing today’s City Council Meeting to the public, although it will be livestreamed.

She also said, though, that while we quarantine, the community should also be mindful of our local economy and businesses.

“If there’s any way we can be supportive, we need to do that,” she said.