CULLMAN, Ala. — Cullman Regional Medical Center reports that COVID-19 is having a critical and hopefully short-term financial impact on the entire local healthcare community.
“As healthcare professionals, we are used to pulling together as a team in a time of crisis,” Cullman Regional CEO James Clements said. “But this is unlike any situation we’ve experienced before.”
Cullman Regional’s team has been actively working and preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic for well over a month, and the hospital is ready if a sudden surge of patients with COVID-19 needs medical care in our community. To help the community understand, we are outlining our preparations as well as an understanding of where we are today.
First, Cullman Regional is ensuring the safety of the staff (nurses and physicians). The hospital currently has an adequate supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies and is doing everything possible to ensure there is enough to protect our patient care team members. Some of the ways this is being done includes:
• Following all CDC and manufacturer guidelines for use of N95 masks including a mask sterilization program in through the hospital’s Surgical Central Sterilizing department. These practices have been put into place in order to make the best use of the supplies we have and conserve for a possible surge of patients over the coming weeks.
• Soliciting donations of hard-to-find items from the community including hand sanitizer, Clorox cleaning products, surgical/procedural masks, eye shields and safety goggles.
• Working with local business and industry in order to acquire industrial safety gowns for approved PPE use and others to develop custom, washable PPE gowns.
• We have the hospital 5th floor which works on a separate air-handler so we can house all COVID-19 patients in one area of the hospital, if the need arises.
• We have an ongoing disaster plan that includes additional off-site care locations if the need arises.
• We typically have 8 ventilators available in the hospital, but can accommodate up to 30 patients on ventilators, if the need arises.
“We hope the community knows and understands, that we are ready, if the need arises,” said Clements.
The challenge is that the need is not currently at Cullman Regional. As of the morning of April 3, the hospital has 2 patients with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis including one on a ventilator although several other patients are awaiting results. In fact, the hospital is seeing approximately 20% less patients today than they were just two weeks ago and approximately 80% less patients in all outpatient areas of the hospital. This compounded with an increase cost of treating COVID-19 as well as the cost of stockpiling supplies in order to prepare for a possible influx and losses from financial investments are making hospital operations more than challenging.
“We are currently in a tough financial situation,” Clements said. “The reduction in the type of business that pays us the best, elective surgeries and outpatient imaging, means we have to make hard decisions quickly in order to keep our organization moving forward through this challenging time.”
In order to meet the current needs, the hospital has implemented a plan to get through the next 30-days. The plan includes the following:
• Effective immediately, all construction projects are on-hold other than the infrastructure project already in progress. This project must be completed by summer in order to ensure adequate air-conditioning throughout the facility during the hot summer months.
• We have developed an operations plan that we will be managing daily in order to ensure we are matching worked hours with the volume of patients currently in our facility. The largest impact of this will be team members in support departments and elective areas. Staffing in patient care areas, particularly in areas serving our most critical patients, will not be compromised.
• In order to help our team members during this time, we are offering a variety of assistance including a continuation of health insurance benefits, free daycare for team members as space allows, and informational meetings to help team members’ access federal assistance programs during this time.
“We are hopeful that this is only temporary and that we can return to more normal circumstances by May,” Clements said. “We appreciate the community’s continued support to help us make it through this challenging time.”
For more information about Cullman Regional or COVID-19, call the Cullman Regional COVID-19 Information line at (256) 735-5530 or visit online at www.CullmanRegional.com/covid19.