By Patricia Deal, CRDAMC Public Affairs

FORT HOOD, Texas-Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center’s commander hosted a virtual meeting with CEOs from local Central Texas Health Systems July 10 to provide an update on the health community’s efforts to combat COVID-19.

Karen Percell-deShong from Advent Health moderated the discussion between Col. Richard Malish, CRDAMC commander; David Byrom, CEO Coryell Health; Zach Dietze, CEO Seton Medical Center Harker Heights; Shahin Motakef, President of Temple and Central Region-Baylor, Scott & White; and Parker Pridgen, Advent Health.

The roundtable began with each hospital giving a quick snapshot as to what their current experience is as they continue to battle COVID-19. All participants reported plenty of capacity and available resources and equipment.

Coryell Health reported that currently they have no COVID-19 active patients in their hospital. Seton reported a recent uptick in the number of COVID patients presenting to its emergency department and an increase on the inpatient side. Advent reported that 20 percent of their patients are COVID positive and Baylor reported less than 15 percent

So while all participants stated they weren’t necessarily worried about capacity or equipment, they all expressed a concern about their staff and keeping them safe.

“We count on staff to be able to take care of our patients. COVID is so prevalent in communities all around the country, and staff members, who are also part of those communities, are getting sick. We need to be able to protect our staff so they can take care of our infected patients,” said Motakef.

When asked about testing, all hospitals noted an increase in testing yet none reported any concerns in managing the demand.

“We’re seeing a great deal of outpatient testing going on in our facility and certainly a spike in the number of positives being identified,” Byrom said. “We recognized early on that testing was a major issue due to the limited availability of testing kits. We already had the ability for rapid testing so today we have our own testing platform for COVID-19. We also have contingency plans for different levels of testing across the system besides our own should we need to outsource.”

CRDAMC’s respiratory drive through facility tests anywhere from 400 up to 800 patients a day with more and more of those turning out to be positive, Malish said.

The roundtable concluded with a final take home message from each hospital.

“We know COVID is here to stay and we must be prepared to deal with it,” Pridgen said. “You are your own best healthcare advocate. So protect yourself, protect your family when you’re out and about. It’s the simple things you can do that are proven to work. Wear your masks and wear them appropriately, wash your hands, practice social distancing.”

Dietz agreed, and added caution about avoiding large gatherings in public, even family gatherings, if possible to minimize potential spread and exposure to loved ones, friends or coworkers.

“I want to emphasize that testing is hugely important when dealing with COVID. It’s so easy for folks to misdiagnose the sub-symptoms thinking they have a small allergy situation going on. These days, people who have such symptoms should assume they have been infected. Let us help you by getting tested.  Keep your daily activities functioning as you go forward but exercise extreme caution till you get that done,” Byrom said.

Motakef echoed his colleagues’ comments. “I just want to point out that no one is immune from this. There is a false belief that this is only impacting old people, yet right now, my number one demographic is a white female 25 to 34 years old. Looking at the all the patients who have been admitted to our hospital, it’s impressive as to how evenly distributed the virus actually is by age, race and sex,” Motakef said. “Again, everyone needs to be careful.”

Malish closed out the roundtable by expressing some of his immediate and future concerns about the pandemic, and shared his optimism about how we’re working together as a healthcare team to combat the virus.

“It’s important for us not to confuse relaxation of public health measures, which we need for the health of our company or our economy, with relaxation of personal protective measures which we need for the health of our community. Go out and enjoy your different activities, but don’t go out without a mask on or engage in activities engaging large attendance in close quarters, Malish said.

Malish said that the strength of all the community healthcare partners united with one purpose will make positive changes.

“I’m grateful that we have a team that looks out for the entire community, not just the agenda of one particular hospital. I think that we’re networked well together. We have a good understanding about what’s happening in each other’s footprint and help each other as we make various decisions in our hospitals’ operations,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons for optimism. Our staff is well trained and we have had months of experience with COVID-19. We don’t have any shortages of anything right now. We have a healthy population and have been fortunate to have good outcomes with our COVID-19 patients do well.”