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Rebuilding America: Safety is top priority at Pratt Regional Medical Center

Jennifer Stultz
jstultz@pratttribune.com
Despite concern about coronavirus spread, Pratt Regional Medical Center nursing administrative assistant Donna McEachern, along with all other PRMC staff, welcomed residents of Pratt County and beyond to the hospital's safety net during the pandemic. Strict protocols have been observed and continue to be monitored by a safety team of community leaders during the pandemic.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Pratt Regional Medical Center in Pratt has welcomed patients from near and far into a safe medical environment. A special team of community leaders helped the small-town hospital provide necessary medical care to area patients while keeping everyone safe.

“We have an excellent team of very smart people who meet daily to discuss safety guidelines, update protocols and evaluate our position in accordance with our state governor’s plans for dealing with the coronavirus,” said Sherry Besser, PRMC’s safety officer and COVID-19 task force leader. “I work closely with the Pratt County Health Department, Pratt County Emergency Management and PRMC division leaders to make sure we are aligned with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department of Emergency Management.”

While the immediate community of Pratt had only one positive case of the coronavirus confirmed as of May 20, the regional hospital served patients coming from other counties, and even other states, where infections rates were higher.

“We have a wide span of patients coming to PRMC from across western and south central Kansas, even from eastern Colorado and Oklahoma,” Besser said. “Because of that we had to be extra vigilant, all the while welcoming those who needed care into our facilities with open arms.”

Several points of safety were observed at PRMC during the first months of the virus in Kansas, including visible placement of hand-sanitizing stations conveniently throughout the facilities.

“Emphasizing hand sanitization was absolutely the most important thing we could do to ensure safety,” Besser said.

Entrances to the hospital were limited to three doors, making it possible for employees to physically screen every person who walked through the door.

“We made sure everybody had a face mask, and provided one for those who did not,” Besser said. “No one without that precaution was allowed in.”

Other safety points observed included limiting patients to one visitor per day, no public dining in the hospital cafeteria, no coffee dispensers, no congregants allowed at entrances or in hallways, community storm shelter eliminated and the creation of special negative-pressure waiting rooms for those getting tested for the coronavirus.

Besser also said that all staff followed, and continues to follow, strict guidelines for putting on and taking off personal protective equipment, including N95 masks or respirators, face shields, masks, gloves, isolation gowns and footwear.

PRMC communications director Andie Dean said safety has been a top priority and will continue to play an important role at PRMC as America reopens and rebuilds its economy.

As Pratt County's largest employer with more than 430 workers, Dean said safety was an important factor in the financial stability of PRMC as well.

“We have a campus proper in Pratt, the Pratt Internal Medicine Group on Country Club Road, and four branches in other rural Kansas communities (Farmer's Clinic in St. John, two clinics in Dodge City, and one more in Liberal),” Dean said. “Financial stability was important not only for the hospital, but also for all the households depending on income from that entity. Safety was closely linked to our success in a pandemic climate.”

PRMC doctors serve at all of these locations, with some even traveling to additional places, such as Kinsley, Anthony and Mead, to help meet health needs in rural, otherwise underserved areas of Kansas.

When the coronavirus hit rural Kansas communities in March, Dean said the campus proper of PRMC became like a ghost town.

"We enacted strict rules about who could be here and who could not," she said. "Divisions of care were sent home, doctors and nurses who came to work had specific protocols to follow, and other employees were on strict care routines."

Millions of dollars in revenue were lost in March and April because of the furloughs enacted, which eliminated many phases of medical care, but the safety standards were upheld as a result. In the end, those safety measures are what the hospital is building back on, as patients — many from the outlying rural areas — come back for what had been termed nonessential services.

As PRMC reopens its physical rehabilitation offices, mental health counseling services and specialized surgeries, safety remains a top priority.

"We will continue to test any and all surgery patients who come in for the coronavirus," Besser said. "This is now a standard procedure."

Extensive cleaning exacted for virus spread containment will continue regularly. Staggered appointments, limits on numbers of guests and visitors, and all of those coronavirus safety points will remain in effect for the foreseeable future.

In February, PRMC was named a 2020 Top 100 Rural and Community Hospital by the Chartis Center for Rural Health. In late April, the Pratt-based medical center earned an A award in safety from The Leapfrog Group, an independent national watchdog organization that is committed to health care and quality safety. The Leapfrog award was based on how well the hospital prevents medical errors and other harms to patients.

Paul Carrington, PRMC director of quality and infection control officer, confirmed the hospital was one of four points for testing in the area and conducted more than 100 tests for the coronavirus by mid-May.

"We test three groups of people coming in," Carrington said. “One, we test all those with diagnostic symptoms of COVID-19 or who have come in close contact with a known-positive case of the coronavirus; two, we do antibody testing for those who want to know if they previously had the virus; and three, we test anyone who undergo surgery here, anyone who will be going under anesthesia.”

Carrington said patients came from near and far for the tests in Pratt County, with the county health department and Pratt Family Practice also giving tests. Those numbers are not part of the PRMC count.

Looking down the road, Carrington said, these tests will continue to be part of any admission routine at PRMC.

“We’ve had only one positive test for Pratt County so far,” Carrington said. “That would suggest that we have a second hump of this disease to look out for as our community has not seen the extent of the virus here yet.”

Carrington said protocols based on patient symptoms, patient illnesses and caregiver assignments would continue to be a top priority in keeping south-central and southwestern Kansas patients safe.

WHAT TO EXPECT

• PRMC is the largest employer in Pratt County, with more than 430 workers at several locations.

• Nearly 100 people were tested for COVID-19 during March and April at PRMC; only one case was positive.

• Continued safety measures dictate that all admissions, visitors and employees must wear masks or additional personal protective equipment; no more than one person may accompany a patient; the facility may not be used for shelter by those in the neighborhood in case of a tornado; and those in for a COVID-19 test must wait in negative-pressure rooms.

• PRMC was awarded The Leapfrog Group top grade for safety in April.