By Melody Vallieu
Miami Valley Today
MIAMI VALLEY — While Ohioans have “flattened the curve” of COVID-19 cases, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), hospital officials in the region continue to work on a contingency plan in the case of a surge.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and the ODH recently tasked hospital systems in five regions of the state to come up with a plan to care for patients if the need arises outside the normal hospital setting.
The Miami Valley, considered Region 3, is served by the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association (GDAHA), a full-service not-for-profit association whose primary focus is to ensure quality health care in the area. There are 29 GDAHA member hospitals and health organizations that serve residents of 11 Ohio counties including Auglaize, Butler, Darke, Champaign, Clark, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby, and Warren.
GDAHA President and CEO Sarah Hackenbracht said they continue to work with its networks to plan for a surge of COVID-19 patients that could overwhelm the current facilities as they stand.
Hackenbracht said while the Dayton Convention Center has been determined as the site for an alternate medical site, networks are looking within their own properties to grow patient areas without creating the off-site facility. Hackenbracht cited a gymnasium attached to Kettering College at Kettering Hospital in Kettering as an example of one place identified that can be re-purposed for patients.
“The goal is to care for patients in the hospitals. So, we went back into the facilities and found the space and are working on staff and equipment needed,” Hackenbracht said.
If the need arises beyond the spaces identified within the hospital systems in the GDAHA, Hackenbracht said a stand up facility would be created at the Dayton Convention Center.
“The actual implementation of the site has been postponed,” Hackenbracht said. “However, we are putting it down on paper. There is a plan in place.”
Hackenbracht said the convention center would house low acuity and non-COVID-19 patients from throughout the region. She said the board is still looking at the number of patients they would be able to transfer to the convention center, based on materials and staff acquired.
According to Hackenbacht, GDAHA has plans in place for locating personal protective equipment (PPE), medical supplies and equipment, and staff if the stand up facility becomes a necessity.
“We have some supplies in an emergency cache. We would submit requests from Ohio EMA (Emergency Management Agency) and local EMAs and use any other channels to get other supplies into the region other than take from the hospitals,” Hackenbracht said.
Hackenbracht said GDAHA will work with other agencies to get necessary medical equipment into the convention center to treat the low acuity patients.
“Some things we can source still, other things we would have to work with state and federal partners to see what would be available to us,” Hackenbracht said.
Furloughed staff could also be reinstated to care for patients in both the on-site hospital facilities and Dayton Convention Center site, according to Hackenbacht. She said volunteers who have medical backgrounds, such as retired nurses and doctors who still hold licenses, also can be sourced.
“Staff that have been furloughed because of elective surgeries being canceled and non-essential staff that have been furloughed could be called on,” Hackenbracht said. “This would be a perfect situation for them.”
The individual health networks would be tasked with transporting patients to the convention center facility, Hackenbracht said.
“Each health care system has a responsibility to transport or arrange for patients from their respective facilities to the Dayton Convention Center should that alternate care site be opened,” Premier Health officials confirmed.
Kettering Health Network officials said they will do what is necessary to care for all patients.
“We will always offer any of our resources to other hospitals in our northern market such as testing, transportation, moving patients to another facility to co-locate them to help conserve PPE,” said John Weimer, vice president, Network Emergency, Trauma and Operations Command Center. Weimer is also one of the leaders of Kettering Health Network’s Incident Command Center, which is overseeing the network’s response to COVID-19. “We are a community partner well beyond Troy and Miami County.”
The Ohio National Guard also could be called in for some of the non-clinical roles, like screenings, collecting waste, and patient transport, Hackenbracht said.
Hackenbracht said GDAHA officials continue to follow the modeling being done with the ODH to prepare for the future, but believes Ohioans have stepped up to the challenges.
“We really have done a good job as the state of Ohio, especially when you continue to see the national news and what has happened in other states,” Hackenbracht said.