LIMA — For days, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton has warned of a coming surge of new COVID-19 cases that would ordinarily overwhelm hospitals. Hospitals have responded in kind by creating new COVID-19 units and pulling out their emergency plans. Some have even started scouting out potential sites for field hospitals.
By late April, the Ohio Department of Health anticipates roughly 10,000 new cases per day.
“We’re preparing for the worst, but we don’t know,” said Mike Swick, president and CEO of Lima Memorial Health System.
Lima Memorial has already established a separate unit for confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients, which may grow in the coming weeks as the hospital waits to see what the surge looks like in the Lima region.
The hospital has been working closely with Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center, starting with the COVID-19 call center and triage screening services the hospitals launched together in March.
The triage process — in which callers describe their symptoms to determine whether they should be tested for respiratory illnesses, an alternative to testing everyone for COVID-19 when tests are still scarce — helps the hospitals evaluate possible COVID-19 cases while still limiting face-to-face contact. It’s also one of the early steps to keep people who believe they have been infected but who can otherwise treat themselves at home out of the hospitals.
But Swick said there are no plans right now for a field hospital in Lima.
“We’re looking within the blueprint or the floor plan of both hospitals, inside that hospital so that hopefully we don’t have to go outside of that,” Swick told The Lima News on Thursday.
Swick said he has weekly calls with the leaders of St. Rita’s and the outlying hospitals to coordinate COVID-19 policies.
“We’re sharing with one another what the plans are so we’re in lock step together,” he said.
Governor Mike DeWine has divided the state into three zones to coordinate the pandemic response between hospitals and identify hotspots where the virus is surging.
Allen, Auglaize, Hancock, Mercer, Putnam and Van Wert counties are now part of Zone 1, which includes the Toledo and Cleveland areas. Logan and Hardin counties will be part of Zone 2, which feeds into Columbus and southeastern Ohio, while Shelby County is included in Zone 3 out of Cincinnati.
But that doesn’t mean someone who gets sick in Lima will necessarily be transferred to a hospital in Toledo or Cleveland. According to Swick, both hospitals in Lima are capable of treating the most severe cases right here.
Elsewhere, smaller hospitals like Joint Township District Memorial Hospital in St. Marys have worked quickly to identify makeshift COVID-19 units and deploy their own triage services.
Blanchard Valley is taking an inventory of its properties to identify alternative sites should the main hospital in Findlay ever have more patients than beds.
“We would like to keep as many individuals on our main campus as possible for the reasons that we would then already have beds, staff that know how to use our system … and we would have all of our supplies,” said Dr. William Kose, chief medical officer for Blanchard Valley Health System.
But the health network owns other properties, including Bluffton Hospital, and has identified community partners like churches that could act as another resource in an emergency.
There’s also the problem of where to see non-COVID-19 patients, as heart attacks and other emergencies will continue despite the pandemic, and what to do when frontline health care workers get sick themselves.
“This is not a normal disaster,” Kose said. “We had a flood (in Findlay) 12 years ago that was a disaster. We’ve had H1N1. We prepared for Ebola. The flood was 3-4 days. We were doing surgery the next day. It was business as usual, as far as a disaster (is concerned). This for us, it’s a marathon. I’m worried about our people. There’s a lot of fear. People have families and don’t want to take things home.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.