The Yankton community can help the Avera health system keep hospital beds available for all those who need them, according to Doug Ekeren, regional president and CEO of Yankton’s Avera Sacred Heart Hospital (ASSH).
“If we can’t slow down the spread of this virus and the rate of hospitalizations — think about how many weeks we’ve had high COVID spread in our county —we will have challenges with bed and staff availability into the future,” said Ekeren, who is also the interim regional president of Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell. “We’re able to manage it today, we have the capacity, we can care for more patients and will always ensure that care is provided in some way.”
To alleviate hospital admissions, many COVID patients are being treated in their homes, he told the Press & Dakotan.
“We’ve gotten very creative with the use of technology,” he said. “Our Avera At Home Program is taking care of hundreds of COVID-positive patients and keeping hospital beds open for those who really need them.”
Wearing masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing could help ramp down the surge of cases down the road — and it certainly doesn’t hurt you, he said.
“There’s typically a two- to three-week lag time between positive cases,” Ekeren said. “Then we see the people who have more complexities because of the virus and require hospitalization.”
The novel coronavirus can cause unpredictably severe consequences in otherwise healthy people.
“We know that there are some subsets of people that have issues once they are feeling better. There can be cardiac and other organ complications that certain individuals have after that initial virus,” Ekeren said. “I think to say, ‘Just get the virus, get it over with,’ is really rolling the dice with your personal health.”
Also, coming down the road is the cold and flu season, Lindsay Flannery, ASSH vice President of Patient Care Services pointed out, suggesting that now is the time to start thinking about influenza as well as COVID-19.
“I encourage individuals to get their flu shots, too,” she said. “It would help reduce all that Doug has indicated.”
According to the Department of Health’s (DOH) weekly influenza reports, there have already been positive cases of influenza in the state.
“Influenza and COVID-positive together could be very challenging for the health status of people,” Ekeren said. “The physicians are telling us that we really want to avoid that as much as possible.”
In addition to the possible negative health implications for individuals infected with both influenza and COVID-19, influenza hospitalizations could compete with COVID for hospital beds, he said.
“With our normal number of influenza patients plus the COVID patients and everyone else —people having heart attacks, strokes and babies — we could overwhelm the health-care system,” Ekeren said. “Try to help us keep people healthy and help us keep the health-care system available to take care of people when they need it.”
However, he said, community members should not let fear of the virus prevent them from accessing health care — either preventative or emergent care.
“Whether that’s to see their primary care physician or to come into the emergency room, don’t delay,” Ekeren said. “If you have symptoms of a stroke or a heart attack, or you need to have flu shots, your immunizations or immunizations for your kids.”
Finally, hospital administrators roundly dispute the idea that herd immunity is within reach at this time, he said.
“That’s not what I am hearing from infectious disease physicians and epidemiologists,” Ekeren said. “They think we are a long way as a country from herd immunity, and that’s why the vaccines are going to be so important.”
Vaccines must also be widely available, as well as effective, before we can begin to approach herd immunity, he said.
“Wear the mask. It protects you and protects others. Wash your hands and social distance, and we’ll be fine,” Ekeren said. “We don’t have to live in fear of the virus, but we do have to respect it.”
Masks and PPE should be put on and taken off carefully, in case they have become contaminated, and laundered or replaced as necessary.