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HMH adjusts to changes caused by virus

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(Note: This is the second of a two-part story on Howard Memorial Hospital during Covid-19.)

By John R. Schirmer

News-Leader staff

Howard Memorial Hospital continues to care for coronavirus patients while returning to services which were suspended early in the pandemic.

At the same time, the hospital is preparing for a possible recurrence in the fall, along with making preparations for flu and other ailments.

CEO Debra Wright said telehealth is important for HMH and other facilities. “It allows a patient in a room to see the nurse and the nurse to see the patient. We’ve applied for funding for it. If approved, they repay you for expenses. We applied for each of our 20 licensed beds.”

HMH is expanding its supply of ventilators. “Only two of our 20 rooms are ICU and isolation, and three to five ventilators are always adequate,” Wright said. “Then Covid put ventilators on backorder. Units were transferred to places” with more demand.

“We learned that high flow oxygen delivery systems work effectively for Covid patients. We ordered three and received them. We’re looking at other funding to order seven more of them.”

Wright and CFO Bill Craig continue to look for money for equipment to improve patient care. “We’re excited about funding to make the hospital safer. Come fall and winter when we see flu patients and see a Covid resurgence, this will help us be ready,” Wright said.

The hospital developed a Covid-19 resource packet and placed it into the facility’s computer system. The packet offered a workbook, statistics and other information which was needed.

Howard County has been “fortunate about nursing homes 

in our area. They’ve done a stellar job of doing what the Arkansas Department of Health told them. We haven’t seen the problems that facilities have had elsewhere,” Wright said.

Early efforts at dealing with the pandemic attempted to prevent the virus from spreading and “keep hospitals from being overwhelmed” by large numbers of patients, Wright said. However, “We were underwhelmed” by patients staying home when needing other services and by the state’s suspension of elective surgeries. 

“April was 50 percent below normal” in volume, according to Wright. Some areas were as much as 60 percent off, Craig said. “We had a huge loss in April.”

Volume began to pick up in May. “It’s coming back as the community is more confident and feels safe,” Craig said.

“Fortunately, we’ve not furloughed. We still have health insurance” for employees, according to Craig. “We had employees who voluntarily took pay period reductions or flexed off with vacation time. We had this in a six-week period, then returned to full employment.”

The hospital “had to curb expenses,” Wright said. “Bill has made sure to apply for anything we’re eligible to receive” in financial aid. 

HMH qualified for the federal Paycheck Protection Program and received $2.1 million in late April. “We were covered for eight weeks,” Wright said.

The hospital received about $100,000 from the state’s Ready for Business program.

As June winds down, “We’re in good shape financially,” Craig said. “The doors are open. We’re doing all the precautions.”