More Than 200 Inpatients, Hundreds More Getting Care
With the number of infected patients surging, JPS Health Network continues to implement its emergency response plan for COVID-19, converting additional space throughout the main hospital to house infected patients. Here’s the latest information about how JPS is responding to the pandemic.
What’s happening with COVID-19 patients?
On Friday, JPS hit an all-time high of COVID-19 positive inpatients, with 201 in the hospital, according to Jesse DeWaard, Executive Director of Emergency Services at the health network. On an ordinary day, the facility handles just under 500 patients, so the addition of more than 200 COVID-19 patients has stretched hospital space and the capacity of the people who take care of them to the limit.
“This is something we’ve been preparing for over quite a while,” DeWaard said. “Probably the biggest challenge we face is we have been watching the number of cases and it just keeps getting higher and higher.” Consequently, space is at a premium, DeWaard said, and it’s re-evaluated daily to make sure it’s being used in the best and safest ways."
JPS team members will work through the weekend to convert space in the Surgery Pre-Op area to instead care for critical care patients. It’s a complicated move, but one that can be made because non-emergency surgeries have been postponed during the COVID-19 surge. Critical Care space on floors four and five of the Patient Care Pavilion at JPS are designed to handle 36 patients each, along with another 36 in the Intensive Care Unit. Floors are being reorganized to nearly double capacity of infected patients.
“Using the Pre-Op area is trying to thread the needle because some people are still going to need emergency surgery,” DeWaard said. “We still have cancer patients and, as a Level I Trauma Center, a lot of trauma cases that come through. We have to be ready to take care of those people, too.”
Outside of the Patient Care Pavilion, a pair of white tents have been erected to allow additional space to triage an increasingly steady flow of patients who arrive at the Emergency Department in need of assistance.
Wanda Peebles, Executive Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer, said it takes tons of work to add additional space, requiring much more than just moving patients around the JPS campus. She said there is a lot of logistical work that has to happen to make sure supplies are where they’re needed, machinery to monitor patients’ vital signs is both relocated and hooked up properly; the very complex monitoring equipment is a high-tech way for the stretched staff to care for patients as closely and efficiently as possible.
Adding more COVID-19 care space solves a problem as it creates one: finding the right people to staff it.
Chris Lyons, Executive Director of Human Resources, said all hospitals are finding it tough to keep staffing levels in nursing – and other departments – where they need to be. But the team continues to find solutions.
“We’re continually looking internally and externally to satisfy our staffing needs,” Lyons said. An extra challenge is locating people with the complex skill set required for critical patient care. JPS has been able to find the right people when needed, and the network gives credit to the state for assigning skilled nursing reinforcements throughout the year.
“It’s an amazing amount of work to make all these moving parts run smoothly and I couldn’t be more proud of our people,” Peebles said. “We know how hard everyone has been working over the past year to deal with this situation. But, as much as our people have been through, when you need someone to work another shift or to come in on the weekend, they’re always there to volunteer. It’s pretty incredible.”
DeWaard said the nurse staffing need will continue to remain high because he doesn’t expect the number of in-house COVID-19 patients to decrease any time soon.
“A lot of the increase comes from people getting together over the holidays, and we’re just two weeks out from New Year’s Day,” DeWaard said. “I think we’re going to be seeing higher numbers for a while, especially because COVID-19 patients tend to stay longer than most other types of patients in the hospital because of the nature of the disease.
How is the staff holding up?
Dr. Jay Haynes, Senior Medical Director of Innovation and Integration and a longtime employee physician, said it’s been a challenge keeping doctors, nurses, therapists, techs and other JPS team members healthy when so many people outside of the safe hospital environment are sick---people these healthcare heroes live with in their communities, families and social circles.
So far, 2,901 COVID-19 tests have been given to JPS team members, with 1,125 employees reporting positive tests and 116 of them requiring hospitalization. Of the employees who became infected, 1,000 of them have been able to return to work.
Haynes said that while the rates of infection mirror what’s happening in the community, there’s reason to be optimistic with team members being vaccinated by the thousands. “I think that’s something that offers great promise for our future.”
Haynes said more than 4,800 JPS employees have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination so far, which represents about 66 percent of the 7,200 people who work at the health network.
“The majority of our staff will have had both doses of the vaccination by Valentine’s Day,” Haynes said. “Getting that herd immunity from the vaccination is something that is going to really help to protect our people."
Haynes said having so many JPS team members receive the vaccination is also a good example for the community at large.
“There is always some concern when something new comes out,” Haynes said. “But the public can see that our people have gotten the vaccine and done well with it, so they ought to be encouraged to get it, too. That’s how we’re going to eventually get out of this.”
Dewaard said it’s been tough for nurses, therapists and doctors to get a mental break, much less a physical one. About 200 COVID-19 patients have died at JPS, and some nurses have had to deal with the loss of six or more patients in a single shift.
“The sorrow, anxiety and pressure just keep building up and you don’t have time to get over it,” DeWaard said. “Plus, there’s the fact that people are just physically and mentally tired. They’ve been doing this for a very long time.”
What is JPS’ role in distributing the vaccines?
So far, JPS has administered 10,619 first doses of COVID-19 vaccinations, which includes nearly 6000 first doses for patients, according to Laura Keller, Executive Director of Community Health Administration. Almost 1,000 JPS healthcare workers have gotten their second dose. JPS teams are able to distribute more than 1,000 doses of vaccine a day at the main hospital and locations throughout Tarrant County neighborhoods, all by appointment. The number of appointments available in a given day is based on staffing, and appointments continue to fill quickly.
JPS is offering COVID-19 shots to the community based on state guidelines, and expects to ramp up the delivery in the future as the distribution plan moves through its phased system. Any JPS patient 65 and older, or 18 and older with a medical condition that puts them at increased risk can sign up for a vaccine at JPS. Appointments are made via MyChart or by calling 817-702-1100, where wait times have been long under the high demand.
“If there is one thing I could say to the people of Tarrant County and across the country, it’s wear a mask, social distance, and get a vaccination,” DeWaard said. “That’s how we’re going to get out of this. I know people are tired of those things. I’m tired of them, too. But that’s how we’re going to finally get past this.”