While CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital Sulphur Springs has seen a reduction in the number of patients in the COVID Unit over the past couple of weeks, the hospital has continued to have a high census count, CMFH-SS CEO Paul Harvey noted earlier this week in an update about the local hospital and CHRISTUS’ Sulphur Springs facilities.
Since the surge in COVID cases starting in June, CMFH-SS has consistently had patient counts in the high 20s and 30s in the COVID unit, Harvey reported Tuesday. By the end of last week and into the first part of this week, those numbers dropped to the low 20s, and by Thursday CMFH-SS only had 18 lab-confirmed COVID patients.
The reduction of even 5-7 COVID patients daily made a big difference for the hospital. He noted that 96 percent of the COVID patients entering CHRISTUS Mother Frances Hospital-Sulphur Springs since June have been unvaccinated.
“That number did not go down. That number stayed its course and that was pretty much, whether you were at a CHRISTUS hospital or not, we’re seeing the same high numbers from the hospitalization rate. A lot of people will come to their own conclusions, but that’s whey we are continuing our vaccine clinic every Friday until further notice,” Harvey said Tuesday afternoon.
While COVID numbers have declined, the hospital has still had a high census, so there really hasn’t been a decline in the total number of patients coming through the hospital. EMS transporting patients to CMFH-SS from Delta, Franklin and Rains counties also served by the local medical service has contributed some to those numbers. While that typically is good for the hospital in terms of funding, it’s not so good for the surrounding community to have so many in need of medical care.
Whereas CMFH-SS was able to obtain additional assistance from state nurses and respiratory therapists during the first big wave of the pandemic, the state removed those resources and staffing wasn’t necessarily available from alternate sources to help in the COVID unit or any other area of the hospital.
Most hospitals in the region are in the same boat, with increased patient counts, and fewer staff to help share the burden. Some hospitals in the region are on full divert for three-day periods at a time, placing more of a burden on the existing Sulphur Springs hospital and staff to care for the patients longer instead of being able to transfer those in need of a higher level of care than the facility can provide to a higher level facility for the necessary care.
The patient influx in CHRISTUS-Sulphur Springs’ emergency room in some cases could mean as much as 36 hours to 7 days before a bed at a facility with the specialty care needed becomes available.
“I am proud of my team on how they are doing. It is a testament to them, not having the staff we had last year,” Harvey said.
Despite competition from private nursing agencies which are offering unheard of salaries to get more to hire on, CMFH-SS has one of the lowest turnover rates in the CHRISTUS system, Harvey reported. The longer wait times have also meant a little dip in patient satisfaction scores. For the most part, being proactive and advising patients and families of the potential wait times for noncritical patients, most appreciate being kept abreast of the situation and are understanding.
“We continue to be sure we do everything we can to keep our associates, our patients and our community safe,” Harvey said.
Flu, COVID Vaccines
As fall and winter approach, flu shots are being made available at local pharmacies. CHRISTUS began this week administering flu shots to their associates.
“For us, flu shots have always been mandatory for healthcare workers. COVID vaccines are not mandatory at CHRISTUS. We continue to educate our staff on the benefits of COVID vaccine. We’re starting to see a little bit of an increase on that.”
The hospital plans to continue indefinitely hosting a Friday COVID vaccine clinic, offering Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines and Pfizer boosters from 9 to noon. Appointments are not necessary. People have only to show up at the hospital from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Friday, let staff now whether they want their first Pfizer or Moderna vaccination, are getting their second dose of vaccine, or are in need of a Pfizer booster. CMFH-SS gave out the last dose of Johnson and Johnson COVID vaccine 3 Fridays ago, and will not be receiving any more of that type of COVID vaccine.
“We’ve been averaging over the last four weeks over 200 plus, which is good. A lot of first timers, not just our associates, but in the community, have decided to go ahead and get the vaccine,” Harvey said.
While the facility is offering COVID booster shots, CHRISTUS as of Friday only offers Pfizer boosters. Per the CDC and FDA, CMFH-SS has paused offering a Moderna booster. While Pfizer has the full official approval of the FDA, the Moderna vaccine is still only approved under the emergency use designation has not yet attained FDA’s full approval as a tried and proven vaccine. Moderna is reported to still be in the process of attaining that status, but so far has not secured full vaccine use approval from the federal agency.
“We’ll have the regular vaccines, but hte only booster we’ll offer is Pfizer,” Harvey said. “We were doing both. When the initial CDC came out with this because of those who really needed it with health conditions. We will be pausing with Moderna booster, not the Moderna vaccine, but the booster.”
The third Pfizer COVID vaccine is available only to those who have already have two doses of Pfizer vaccine, and who meet the established criteria and are within the specified time window since their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Criteria includes being age 65 or older, immunocompromised, having certain other health condition, health care responders, people on the “front lines”
Those who’ve had COVID are recommended to talk to their doctor as the best course of action to determine whether a booster is recommended. That determination often is based on how long its been since the individual had COVID and antibody testing through a lab to check antibody levels in their system.
According to Kristi Shultz, a nurse and Hopkins County Hospital District Board member, antibody testing is conducted when individuals donate blood through Carter BloodCare. So, those antibody results should be accessible online through Carter BloodCare for those who have donated recently or plan to give blood during an upcoming drive.
Testing for COVID is not offered four hours daily at the CHRISTUS Trinity Primary Care Clinic in Sulphur Springs, (the former indigent care clinic). This is for those unable to schedule an office or urgent care visit for COVID testing elsewhere.
Those needing a test will be required to call 903-885-3181, then press option 0, to schedule an appointment for drive-thru testing at the primary care facility. CHRISTUS will open the schedule daily by 8:30 a.m. depending on staffing availability for drive-thru COVID testing. Current tentative available times for testing are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Walk-ins will not be accepted.
People then should arrive in the parking lot of 100 Medical Circle at the scheduled appointment time and remain in their vehicles. Someone will be out shortly to check the patient in and begin the appointment.
Patients are required to sign up for a MyChart account, where COVID testing results will be available to patients.
Saturday Sports Clinic
Harvey too reported the Saturday Sports Clinic has been successful, available to 9th-1st grade students in 22 different school districts, including Commerce High School this year, who have been injured.
Harvey said CHRISTUS is proud to be able to help the schools out again this year by offering this clinic for students who have sustained injury as a result of any athletic school activity, including football and volleyball. Students receive the screenings and care they need Saturday as opposed to having to wait until Monday to see someone.
Dr. Chris Meltsakos has had a lot to do with the program’s success, according to Harvey.
CHRISTUS is currently actively looking for another physician for primary care as well as another for midlevel care. The Sulphur Springs CHRISTUS facilities are also looking to add another orthopedic specialist to enhance the services available locally, and anticipate growth in this area over the next 2 years.
Dr. IL Balkcom is no longer with CHRISTUS Trinity Clinic, Harvey noted.