Close to 10 staff members test positive for COVID-19 at Tennessee hospital

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | March 23, 2020
Less than 10 staff members at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have tested positive for COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University Medical Center)
CEO Dr. Jeff Balser of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee confirmed Thursday that “less than 10” of its staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

Balser revealed the news in a video posted to the VUMC website, saying that the situation with the virus is “changing by the hour” and that it would keep patients informed.

“We believe none have become infected through patient contact and all are in quarantine at home,” he said. “However, the number of confirmed cases in Middle Tennessee is rapidly growing. Nearly 1000 people per day are now being evaluated in the testing centers we have deployed around the city. In order to assure we have the people, and the supplies, to manage the growing demand, we are altering our approach to what is known as elective care.”

The outbreak of the pandemic has led many providers and health systems to delay elective procedures in order to care for patients who test positive for the virus. Many are also experiencing declines in resources such as face masks and respirators as supply chains become strained from higher than normal demand. Bed shortages are another issue that is hindering the ability of hospitals to care for patients with moderate-to-severe cases.

To alleviate these issues, VUMC has instituted social distancing measures, including reconfiguring its waiting rooms to create more distance between patients and encouraging patients to wait in their cars instead. It also has reallocated patient beds completed in Medical Center East, and that can be switched between regular and ICU care. The beds will be used for patients with respiratory illness and will help keep inpatients in Vanderbilt Hospital at a distance from those with coronavirus.

Some scheduled, on-site clinic visits have been switched to telehealth visits, with the hospital’s health IT teams and access center staff having developed a telehealth platform for My Health — an app used by Vanderbilt patients to make appointments and keep track of their medical information — that enables patients to receive care via telehealth in a timely manner. On-site procedures that can be delayed are being rescheduled for later dates.

“Decisions about whether to proceed are being made by our clinicians through communication with their patients. If delaying a procedure for more than 8 weeks will be detrimental to a patient’s health, those procedures will continue as planned. The number of procedures we delay will be adjusted daily, and depends on our staffing, equipment, and the number of coronavirus patients coming to VUMC.”

He adds that some staff members have been directed to work from home to ensure social distancing in labs and clinical research areas, and mitigate the spread of the virus. “I know the last couple of weeks have been trying, with long hours and stressful conditions. The next few weeks will continue to be challenging. We must all take care of each other. This city, this region is counting on us. Together, we are making a difference — and caring for people when they need us most.”

Vanderbilt caters to the needs of more than two million patients annually and serves both adult and pediatric patients throughout Tennessee and the Mid-South.

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