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To take pressure off hospitals, state looks at new partners

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The Kent County Recreation Center is a possible future locations for an emergency hospital | Photo c/o Delaware National Guard

Delaware has 2,544 licensed beds in the state, and while there are 51 people currently hospitalized with coronavirus, health care providers are bracing to see that number increase tenfold over the next few weeks.

Gov. John Carney has predicted that Delaware could see more than 3,000 cases in the upcoming weeks and at least 500 hospitalizations. By those numbers, it seems like Delaware could handle that volume.

But state and health officials worry that coupled with other illnesses and serious health issues, coronavirus cases could overwhelm hospitals at their existing capacity.

“The exact number of available beds is always in flux as patients are continually admitted and discharged,” Beebe Healthcare spokesman Ryan Marshall said.

Delaware Healthcare Association President Wayne Smith said that right now, there’s more than enough beds. But the state and hospitals have been working in tandem to find more when the surge in patients comes.

“What’s helped is that hospitals have stopped non-emergency and non-critical procedures for the moment,” Smith said. “As the rate of infection ramps up, there’s planning underway to find more bed space. There is daily reporting between Delaware hospitals and the state to make informed decisions on additional sites to address a COVID-19 surge in patients.”

Senator Bryan Townsend (D-Newark), chair of the Senate Health and Social Services committee, said that for weeks the state has been working with agencies and businesses across the board to find every possible bed.

 “It’s been all hands-on deck. We’ve had state health experts work around the clock to prepare for this, from planning tent facilities to finding beds,” Townsend said. “We don’t know how bad this could get and how it could shift, so we need to be prepared.”

For example, Townsend pointed out there are approximately 400 ICU beds in the state. Even if there are enough hospital beds right now, there could be opportunities to shift additional beds for non-COVID-19 patients, which could allow some room for those with coronavirus.

Delaware State University (DSU) has offered the state use of its facilities in New Castle and Kent counties, including its parking lots in Dover for an additional testing location.

The Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) has rolled out a plan with the state’s hospitals to test individuals with coronavirus symptoms. People can arrive at one of seven locations, from Wilmington to Seaford, to be tested only on a doctor’s order.

DSU could offer space that would equate to roughly 400 beds at the Wellness & Recreation Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center and a lab space for minor procedures.

“We are now focused on becoming a resource to the broader community at the University’s central locations in Kent and New Castle counties. We stand ready to support Delaware’s dedicated health professionals as long as it takes,” said DSU President Dr. Tony Allen.

Over the past few weeks, the Delaware Emergency of Management Agency (DEMA) and the Delaware National Guard have been exploring options for alternate care facilities so that coronavirus patients could be treated in hospitals.

At the top of DEMA’s list is Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Rockland. It’s likely that equipment will be moved there starting Friday.

The old Milford Memorial Hospital, now in the process of becoming the Milford Wellness Village with a long-term care nursing home at its heart, is also on the list. But Sands said negotiations are still ongoing.

Teams with DEMA and the Delaware National Guard are exploring other overflow care sites that include: 76ers Fieldhouse, the Chase Center on the Riverfront, University of Delaware’s Fieldhouse, and Rehoboth Beach Convention Center among others.

“Every option is on the table right now,” Townsend said. “If coronavirus can’t discriminate, then we need to look at all facilities where possible.”

The Search for Medical Supplies

Across the nation, health officials are concerned about shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), specifically face masks. Delaware’s health and state officials are no different.

DEMA ordered 2.5 million in PPEs, ranging from face masks, N-95 respirators and isolation suits. Since the equipment comes from various vendors, some has arrived while other orders are still outstanding.

The PPEs arrive at a DPH warehouse and are handed out to agencies based on submitted requests.

In the meantime, construction companies and academic labs donate equipment where it can. This week, Indutex USA donated 500,000 masks. Smaller businesses are doing their part, like Sound FX Home Theater & Car Audio in Lewes, which has made scores of face shields for Beebe.

Thousands of crafters took it upon themselves to make cloth masks for health care facilities as well.

Dr. David Tam, Beebe president and CEO, stressed that any help is welcome right now. Beebe started efforts to conserve PPEs but staff are using donated masks in the proper medical situation.

“[We] are preparing for when the surge comes, not if,” Tam said in a prepared statement. “These items will be critical to use during that time. … [Donated masks] are still invaluable to our cause. We cannot thank these community members enough.”

Townsend told the Delaware Business Times it’s critical to remember that it could take weeks to see if Carney’s measures and social distancing will flatten the rising curve of coronavirus cases in the state.

“We need the supplies and the bed space to combat this in the worst-case scenario,” he said. “We hope it flattens, but we won’t know for a week, so we need to be ready.”

–Katie Tabeling (ktabeling@delawarebusinesstimes.com)


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