Keeping Our Patients Safe During COVID-19

April 24, 2020

Treating infectious diseases, including the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), is not new to hospitals, and the guidelines for protecting patients, staff and visitors are comprehensive and evidence-based. You hear often that COVID-19 patients are treated in isolation, and while specific elements of COVID-19 isolation may differ from other infectious diseases, the fundamental practices for isolation treatment do not. Isolation is meant to prevent spread of infectious diseases between patients and the staff members treating them, between patients and their visitors, and between patients and other patients, staff members and visitors throughout the hospital.

Treating patients in isolation

It’s important to note that many patients are treated using various isolation practices, for everything from pink eye to COVID-19. Isolation practices vary based on how a specific infectious disease is spread.

  • If the disease is primarily spread through physical contact, staff members and visitors will follow guidelines specific to preventing spread through direct or indirect contact, which would include things like wearing gloves or a gown.
  • If the disease is spread through droplets of mucus or saliva, staff members and visitors will follow guidelines specific to preventing spread through droplets, which would include things like wearing a mask when working closely with the patient.
  • If the disease is spread through airborne particles that can be spread through inhalation, staff members and visitors will follow guidelines specific to preventing spread through air, which would include placing patients in rooms with monitored negative air pressure (to prevent spread through air circulation to other parts of the hospital) and wearing respiratory protection while in the room.

Safety practices in isolation

Fundamental safety practices for treating patients in isolation are consistent, though, no matter how the disease is spread, and these include:

  • Handwashing: Handwashing is the bedrock of hospital safety and infection prevention. All staff members wash their hands or use a hand sanitizing solution upon entry and exit of the room, and even between treatments on the same patient when appropriate. Handwashing is done even if gloves are worn while in the room.
  • Patient placement and transport: Patients in isolation are typically assigned to private rooms, and additional safety precautions are taken any time they are transported between departments or rooms.
  • Personal protective equipment: Staff members and visitors entering isolation rooms wear personal protective equipment (PPE). The required PPE varies based on how the specific disease is spread, and in the case of COVID-19, typically includes a mask and gown.
  • Nutrition, environmental services and more: Staff members who deliver food or provide cleaning services follow strict guidelines and limit unnecessary entry to isolation rooms. These practices ensure patients still receive excellent care and service while limiting additional exposure and conserving PPE use.

Universal Masking at Southern Tennessee Regional Health System

As a patient or visitor to the hospital or an outpatient clinic, you will be asked to wear a mask, and you will also notice that all of our staff members, in every department, are wearing masks, too. Universal masking is a proactive measure we’re taking to significantly reduce the potential spread of illness. This, layered with our screening at each point of entry for all staff members, patients and visitors, provides additional protection for everyone in our facilities.

How Southern Tennessee Regional Health System is treating COVID-19 patients

To protect our patients and staff members while treating patients for COVID-19 we have implemented the following precautionary measures:

  • To protect our community and all who need medical care, all our positive or suspected COVID-19 patients are isolated on a specialized unit that is disconnected from the remainder of our hospital. Negative-pressure air units are in place to ensure that the airflow from these areas of the hospital remains separate from our other patient, visitor and staff areas.
  • In response to the declaration of a national emergency due to COVID-19, we activated our Emergency Operations Plan on March 13, 2020 and have opened an Incident Command Center at STRHS-Winchester.  It is staffed Monday-Friday 7:00 AM-6:00 PM and Saturday-Sunday 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM and can be reached at (931) 967-8208.
  • A COVID-19 Medical Staff Task Force has been assembled to handle clinical care pathways and ensure continuity of physician coverage during this crisis.
  • We have added additional security around the clock to ensure protection of our patients and staff.
  • We are taking extra precautions to keep all our non-COVID-19 areas clean. Nursing, physician and all additional staff for COVID-19 patient areas are ONLY working in COVID-19 patient areas and are not traveling to other areas of the hospital. 
  • We have reduced the entry point to only the emergency department entrance for all patients, physicians, visitors (if appropriate), and staff. 
  • The Anderton-Smith Building offices is accessible via the lower level entrance, however, people who come in at this entrance will not be able to access the hospital unless they enter through the Emergency Department.
  • The hospital has implemented a zero-visitor* protocol (*some exceptions may apply (e.g. pediatric patients, obstetric patients and those receiving end-of-life care).
  • The hospital, hospital outpatient departments, and physician practices/clinics are screening all individuals who enter our facilities, per CDC guidelines – including patients, physicians, visitors (if appropriate), vendors and staff – based on potential respiratory symptoms, travel history, and fever. 

These protective measures for managing infectious diseases ensure that our hospital is always safe for you and your loved ones when you need care.