CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital Sulphur Springs President and CEO Paul Harvey said the CMFHSS stands ready to serve and meet community needs daily and during the pandemic. Planning, state nurses and additional accommodations made possible through CARES funding are helping to better equip CMFHSS during the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital official reported during the regular Hopkins County Hospital District Board of Directors meeting Tuesday evening.
Harvey said COVID shows no sign of going away anytime soon, with upticks across the state, with El Paso the most heavily impacted at the moment, but CMFHSS stands ready to serve the area.
“We were on a call this weekend where they asked Northeast Texas hospitals with available ICU beds to take additional COVID patients. The thought was they were going to be able to transfer some from El Paso over to here,” Harvey said.
However, because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Northeast Texas as well, very few hospitals were able to take a couple of patients.
“Mother Frances said they could take two. We said we could take two. There’s a big difference between size and capacity of our two facilities, for that to show you how this thing is continuing to dominate health care right now,” Harvey said.
Nurse Staffing During Pandemic
The CMFHSS officer said maintaining nursing staffing is somewhat of a worry for most medical facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, as nursing staff is often stretched hard to meet all of the needs.
While CMFHSS has done well maintaining nursing staff, the facility has lost some nurses who opted to become travel nurses. Those nurses willing to travel can potentially make three time more in a 6-day shift in one week than the nurses would working regular shifts for 6 weeks at the hospital, Harvey noted.
“It hasn’t affected us as much in Sulphur Springs, because our hospital has one of the lowest turnover rates for nursing in the state of Texas. That wasn’t that way 3-4 years ago, but we’ve been able to make enough changes where people realized, ‘Hey, I don’t need to go to Greenville to find a good nursing job. I can stay here, for maybe a couple dollars less, save my gas and still have a great place to work.’ That’s been one of our biggest saviors even compared to some of our other CHRISTUS facilities really struggling with nurse openings and so forth,” Harvey said.
In the past, hospitals combatted nursing shortages by relying on help from contract agencies. Currently, some of those agencies are struggling to find nurses as well during this time of COVID-19 because so many nurses are working for state or federal employers, where they can earn the most money, according to Harvey.
To help reduce some of the costs associated with the need for extra and specialized care due to the COVID-19 unit, CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital Sulphur Springs is benefitting from 18 state nurses, mostly ICU and critical care nurses, working inside the hospital.
“Frankly, that represents probably close to 24 FTEs [full time equivalent hours] every payroll period that we’re not paying our nurses for that. State nurses are doing it,” Harvey said. “Ours is small compared to some of the other hospitals, obviously.”
Harvey said the patient count in The COVID Unit at CMFH-SS has been relatively low this month compared to just 1 1/2 month ago. The high this month until Wednesday had been 10-11, according to information provided to and reported 5 days a week by Hopkins County/Sulphur Springs Emergency Management officials. That number increased to 13 on Wednesday, HC/SSEM reported Oct. 28.
“We hardly had 10 patients in [unit] in the hospital. Six weeks ago we had 22 patients in the hospital for COVID only,” Harvey said.
CMFHSS has made additional accommodations in readiness for not only the normal patient surge during winter, but to be able to accommodate more COVID-19 patients if necessary, according to Harvey.
“Fortunately, we haven’t had to exercise that option … on what we need to do to be able to take care of our COVID patients,” Harvey said. “Just know that we stand ready to deal with it any day.”
CARES Funding, Medical Records
CMFHSS, like most health care agencies, has been receiving CARES funding, which requires a lot more documentation of accountability for all expenses related to the care of patients with COVID and related to the pandemic. That means in addition to the usual financial reporting, hospitals also has to document and send COVID and pandemic related expenses to the federal government as well.
“Being part of a system helps. We don’t have to try and do that ourselves. We have people in our system office that are trying to take care of that for all the hospitals. Part of that is being on the same financial system. That’s what we as a system are moving towards,” Harvey said.
CHRISTUS as a system is moving toward EPIC, an electronic medical records system. The Sulphur Springs hospital and Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler are already using the system. Good Shepherd hospital is scheduled to “go live” on the system around February and Texarkana will begin utilizing it in the next year and a half, according to the CMFHSS CEO/president.
“What that means is that it will allow us to be able to not only predict some of the health outcomes that happen but be able to report things that are having to be reported individually right now for COVID CARES money and help us with negotiation with manage cares pairs because we are all on the same electronic medical records system. So, I am pleased to announce the system voted to do that,” Harvey told Hopkins County Hospital District Board of Directors during the board’s regular October meeting Tuesday night.
The hospital is doing OK fiscally, meeting their monthly budget each month since the new budget started on July 1, he reported.
The number of patients visiting the sports medicine clinic each Saturday has more than double over the number served last year, due in part to the new orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Chris Meltsakos, and the athletic trainers who engage with youth from 14 schools in the service area.
Due to COVID-19 quarantines and positive COVID-19 results resulting in cancelation and postponement of several football games this season, the majority of injuries haven’t necessarily been for football. About 50 percent of the injuries presented at the sports clinic this season have been volleyball injuries.
“I’m really thankful we’re able to do that, from our community standpoint, and help out those people that it. They come right in and if they need MRI they do it right then, so the student and the family knows within that 2-hour period what the health plan will be for that student to take care of their needs, whether they will need knee surgery or rehab or other things,” Harvey said. “I think this had been really good for our high schools and our school community.”