Ketchikan’s hospital is gearing up to fight a possible surge of coronavirus cases.
Administrators at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center say they can now accept nine COVID-19 patients at a time in an isolation ward that’s designed to keep the virus from spreading.
And so far, that’s been sufficient — PeaceHealth Infectious Disease Specialist Catherine Bjernum says only one patient has been hospitalized in Ketchikan so far.
“So I think right now, we’re doing great with the capacity that we have, but we have the capacity also to expand quite a bit as we need to,” Bjernum said in a virtual press availability Tuesday.
But she says the hospital could raise the number of COVID-19 beds from nine to 25 fairly quickly. And if those start to fill up, Bjernum says that other hospital wards could be repurposed in a matter of days. That would bring the total to 47 beds for patients infected with coronavirus.
“So we definitely have the capacity to expand the number of beds we need as the surge that’s anticipated comes to us,” Bjernum said.
Right now, those isolation beds are empty — Bjernum says that as of Tuesday morning, the PeaceHealth Ketchikan doesn’t have any patients that have tested positive for coronavirus. And since the outbreak reached Ketchikan in mid-March, officials say only one patient has required hospital care.
But that leaves the question of staffing: even if the hospital has plenty of equipment to handle an influx of patients, who would staff them?
PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Director Peter Rice says the hospital could reassign medical staff.
“We have clinic doctors who have previously worked in the hospital poised and ready to join the hospitalists on the inpatient side as needed,” Rice said.
Nurses from the PeaceHealth clinic could also be reassigned to the hospital. Rice says specialist doctors like anesthesiologists are also ready to help treat COVID-19 patients. That’s because the state restricted elective surgeries earlier this month.
Rice says PeaceHealth Ketchikan is also asking its Washington state-based parent organization for additional respiratory therapists — specialists who help people with breathing issues common with COVID-19.
Beyond adding capacity, hospital officials say they’re also trying to keep as many people as possible out of the hospital by offering telemedicine, limiting visitors, and stepping up home treatment for things like physical and occupational therapy.
As of Tuesday evening, 13 people have tested positive for the coronavirus since Ketchikan’s first case was announced on March 17.