LIMA — Lima hospitals, in conjunction with Allen County Public Health, on Tuesday announced the establishment of a call center and two evaluation centers as the latest proactive steps in the battle against the COVID-19 virus.
People who believe they have symptoms associated with the virus are advised to call the hotline at 419-226-9000 for an over-the-phone assessment and a recommendation on how to best proceed with necessary medical attention.
The announcement of the hotline and the evaluation centers was made jointly by representatives from Lima Memorial Health System and Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center during a press conference held in Lima City Council chambers.
Dr. Dennis Morris, chief medical officer at Lima Memorial, said the steps implemented are necessary to preserve dwindling medical resources and to avoid bogging down limited medical capabilities.
“One of the biggest challenges we’re going to face with COVID-19 is the overburden of our health care facilities and our resources, both at the medical centers and at outpatient offices,” he said. “In an effort to alleviate some of these pressures on the emergency departments and the walk-in centers, the urgent cares and the primary care offices, Lima Memorial and St. Rita’s, in partnership with the Allen County Health Department, are introducing a Community Call Center and two designated Community Evaluation Centers.”
Morris said the call center, which opened Tuesday morning, will be staffed by individuals from both hospitals.
“If a resident believes they have COVID-19 or symptoms of COVID-19, first we strongly encourage them to call this (hotline) number before they visit a health care provider or the emergency department or walk-in care center. We really request strongly that they call first before they visit any of these facilities,” he said.
Callers will be subjected to a series of questions, and follow-up recommendations will be made based on their responses. If an in-person visit with a medical professional is recommended, persons will be directed to one of the two centers for further evaluation.
The location of the centers was purposely not made public to avoid a potential glut of walk-in visitors.
Dr. Matt Owens, chief clinical officer at St. Rita’s, said the evaluation centers are intended for screening purposes.
“What you should expect there is a screening evaluation by a medical professional,” he said. “We will have the ability to test for the flu, for strep throat, and for other potential viral illnesses.
“What we will not be doing there is testing for COVID-19. At this time the supplies for testing here for COVID-19 in our region are still extremely limited. We are reserving those tests for those who are the most sick and require the most aggressive medical resources,” Owens said. “Manufacturers are still working to keep up with the pace of likely testing needs, and at this time we are in a shortage situation where we want to make sure we are using tests appropriately. We are dedicating huge resources to try to find additional testing supplies. When that can be obtained, we will communicate that with the public and loosen the reins a bit on our decisions to test.”
Morris added, “Again, our main goal here is to try to limit the exposure to our other facilities and the potential spread of this virus. We also have to make every effort possible to conserve the resources that we have. In some of the protective equipment we are already in rather dire straits, and we are running critically low in supplies. We know they are going to be hard to get and replenish.”
He said surgical masks, gloves and gowns” “are what we really have to conserve. Unfortunately a lot of those things are made overseas, and we’re having a difficult time getting them here.”
Morris said both hospitals have opted to forego elective, non-essential surgeries for the immediate future.
“We’re going to try to postpone those so we can conserve some supplies,” he said.
“COVID-19 is here,” said Allen County Health Commissioner Kathy Luhn. “It’s naive to think that because we haven’t had a positive (test result) yet in Allen County that it’s not here. Once we get a (positive) test here, or several tests, the numbers aren’t really going to matter for what we do. It’s the steps we’re taking right now — the social distancing and helping spare our medical resources — that are really going to make the difference. That’s what will get us through.”
The nearest positive test of the 67 confirmed cases is in Darke County, to the south, according to the Ohio Department of Health’s Tuesday update.
Luhn praised the continuing cooperation between the two regional hospitals and the county health department.
“During times like this, it is important for our community to come together. I really do appreciate the cooperation of St. Rita’s and Lima Memorial, and I believe this is essential to occur if we’re going to be successful in our battle with this new novel virus,” Luhn said.