Morris Hospital CEO Reflects on COVID Progress
April 20, 2020, Morris, IL – Five weeks after implementing its first round of visitor restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers’ President & CEO Mark Steadham is reflecting on all of the measures that have been implemented by the organization in order to safely deliver care at the hospital and its 24 medical facilities throughout Grundy, LaSalle, Livingston, Kendall, and Will counties.
“It’s amazing when we look back on all that our team has accomplished in just five weeks,” says Steadham.
As part of its emergency operations plan, Morris Hospital has had its Incident Command structure in place since March 13, which dedicates personnel to managing the organization’s response to the COVID pandemic 24 hours around the clock. Infectious disease physician Dr. John Bolden serves as medical director to Incident Command, advising on infection control measures daily.
“For a community hospital our size, we are very fortunate to have the expertise of an infectious disease physician solely dedicated to our hospital,” says Steadham. “Dr. Bolden’s commitment is extraordinary. He has worked tirelessly for more than 40 days straight to guide and advise us on infection control measures.”
One of those measures involves requiring all staff to self-monitor for illness and wear a mask while working. In addition, every patient or visitor who comes to a Morris Hospital facility is screened for symptoms of respiratory illness and has their temperature checked before being permitted to enter.
Some important changes were also made to the hospital facility itself in recent weeks, including converting one of the medical/surgical nursing units to a COVID dedicated inpatient unit. This separates inpatients who are tested for the virus from patients who are hospitalized for other reasons.
Six intensive care beds were added to the COVID unit, which are in addition to the hospital’s regular ICU. The heating, ventilation, and cooling system on the dedicated COVID unit was adjusted so that every patient room has negative air pressure in order to contain any potential airborne contaminants.
A separate, specialized safety plan was developed for the obstetrical unit, including adding a negative pressure nursery in case one is needed.
Of the 70 total inpatients who have been tested for COVID-19 over the past 5 weeks due to respiratory symptoms, only 9 have tested positive.
“While we’ve had some very sick patients with respiratory illness and pneumonia over the past few weeks, the majority have tested negative for COVID-19,” says Steadham. “One of the biggest challenges we’ve had is waiting for the test results to come back, which can take between 1-3 days. During that time, we have to assume the patient is positive and take all of the necessary precautions. That’s a long time to wait for test results.”
Steadham says the hospital has put great efforts into trying to obtain the reagent that’s needed to process COVID testing in its own laboratory but so far has come up empty handed.
“There have been a few times when we have been very close to being able to purchase the reagent, but then the supplies get diverted to another part of our country or state where activity is much greater than our community,” says Steadham. “If we could run the test ourselves, we would have results in less than 30 minutes compared to 1-3 days. That would be a game changer.”
Along with safety precautions on the inpatient units, every treatment room in the hospital’s Emergency Department has also been converted to negative air pressure. Patients with respiratory symptoms who come to the Emergency Department are asked to return to their car and pull around to a special entrance where they are initially evaluated. Only those requiring hospitalization are brought inside the Emergency Department where many special precautions are in place.
Steadham says the hospital’s immediate and convenient care walk-in clinics in Channahon, Diamond-Coal City, Morris, and Yorkville have remained open and are also taking precautions, including restricting individuals with respiratory symptoms to video visits so that those who need to be seen for other reasons can continue to come in person.
“From the start, the Centers for Disease Control and Illinois Department of Public Health have advised those with mild respiratory symptoms to stay home and contact their provider,” says Steadham. “We’re proud of our team for quickly putting telemedicine video appointments in place so we have an option for those seeking care for mild respiratory symptoms.”
Providers in Morris Hospital’s 22 physician office settings are also using video technology for the first time to conduct appointments with patients, not only for those who have respiratory symptoms but for other medical reasons as well. At this time, approximately 70% of patient appointments are being done through video visits, with the remainder being done in person in the office.
“While it’s important that we continue to follow the stay-at-home order and physical distancing, many of our providers are concerned that their patients may not be getting the attention they need for other medical conditions,” says Steadham. “Between all of the safety precautions we’ve put in place, along with reducing traffic in our provider offices by seeing as many patients as we can through video visits, we believe we’ve created a safe environment in all of our facilities so that we can continue to provide care for those who have medical needs that shouldn’t be put on hold.”
Along with all of the planning related to infection control and caring for COVID patients, Steadham says not to be forgotten are the hospital services that are critical to patients with other healthcare needs, including lifesaving diagnosis and treatment of cardiac and other vascular issues in the hospital’s cath lab, essential surgeries and procedures, delivery of new newborns, diagnostic testing, infusion therapy, radiation treatment, rehabilitation, and emergency and inpatient care for other conditions.
“For the past 5 weeks, patients coming to us for other needs are unable to bring a support person or have a visitor unless they are having a procedure that requires sedation,” says Steadham. “I’ve heard numerous stories about our staff stepping in to provide extra support to patients during this time when they are unable to have a loved one with them. One patient even made a post on Facebook to thank our staff for making him feel like family during his stay. He said he never felt alone while he was hospitalized. Our staff truly has done extraordinary things during these extraordinary times.”
“Like everyone, the pandemic has impacted our staff in so many different ways,” he adds. “They are an incredible group who give so much of themselves to take care of our community. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Steadham says support from the community over the past several weeks has been greatly appreciated and has provided inspiration for the hospital staff, including donations of food and supplies, notes, and other messages.
“Since the start, our team has worked very hard to assure that we are always a few steps ahead,” says Steadham. “As a healthcare community, hospitals are starting to plan for how we can gradually start to resume elective surgeries, procedures, and other services that have been put on hold in the coming weeks.”
Serving patients at 25 locations, Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers includes the 89-bed Morris Hospital, as well as physician offices in Braidwood, Channahon, Coal City, Dwight, Gardner, Marseilles, Mazon, Minooka, Morris, Newark, Ottawa, Seneca, and Yorkville. Through the services of over 1,700 healthcare professionals, physicians and volunteers, Morris Hospital provides lifesaving cardiac intervention with angioplasty and stents, a radiation therapy center for cancer patients, state-of-the-art intensive care unit, sleep center, and walk-in care at four locations. Morris Hospital is a Level II trauma center, Level II perinatal care provider, and primary stroke center. The hospital is known for its compassionate and personalized approach to healthcare and receives national recognition for quality and safety, including the Healthgrades 2019 Patient Safety Excellence Award™ and the Healthgrades 2019 Outstanding Patient Experience Award™, in addition to being named to Becker’s Hospital Review’s 100 Great Community Hospitals list four years in a row.
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