GALLIPOLIS — Holzer Health System and the Gallia Health Department held a digital meeting with Ohio Valley Publishing Thursday to clear misunderstandings regarding COVID-19 testing protocols and answer questions regarding hospital preparedness.
“Everyone who needs a test will have access to get a test,” said Holzer Health System CEO Dr. Mike Canady. “Not everyone who wants a test needs a test. If we could do it perfectly, we’d have 330 million tests done in the U.S. and we’d know if everyone was positive or negative off the bat. We don’t have that capability. It gets better everyday and the amount of testing and things that can be done. We’ve been working tirelessly internally. The way you think about testing is there is collection and then there is testing of the specimen… We do the collections here but we do not yet have the capability of actually running the test on our campus to get a result here.”
Canady said that specimens, depending on the circumstance, are sent to the Ohio Department of Health or to a commercial lab and have a two to three day turnaround for results.
“We’ve only actually taken care of one patient in our hospital that we knew for a fact was positive for COVID,” said Canady. “The concern we have is that people seem to think that we’re not testing people so we can keep our numbers low and look good. We’ve done over 300 tests. We’re not a very populated set of counties from the get-go… If you look along the Ohio River from Scioto and Pike County on the southwest side all the way up to Washington County, other than Lawrence and Washington, there are single digit in every county. It’s not that those places aren’t getting people tested, it’s that there is not prevalence of disease here like in other places.”
Canady said he felt the areas that were most affected by COVID-19 were areas with higher population density and noted that one could see this illustrated through places like New York City.
“The thing that really works is social distancing,” said Canady. “If you think about prisons, the big jumps in numbers in Ohio in the last four or five days have been almost 100 percent due to the prison population.”
Canady noted the reason for Gallia County’s lower number of tests and sick patients in comparison to Lawrence County was likely due to the fact that Lawrence County’s population is nearly 60,000 individuals while Gallia’s is roughly 30,000 individuals, according to U.S. Census information from 2010.
“One (misperception) is that we’re not testing people. We are,” said Canady. “We follow algorithms given to us by (Ohio Department of Health) and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). To my knowledge, there has not been anyone who’s met the criteria for the algorithms that’s not been given a test… I am hopeful everyday we get closer to doing our own tests in-house.”
Canady noted Holzer also had tests on order to look for individuals who may have had the virus but have immunity.
“We are a low risk area so we don’t get priority to getting those testing kits in our facilities,” said Canady. “We’ve geared up. Three or four weeks ago we were looking at models that showed huge surge numbers in Ohio. Ten thousand cases per day was what they were predicting with the initial model. About 10 days into that model, they realized that’s not going to happen. Either a multitude of different things happened or our social distance measures have taken some effect.”
Canady noted that surge prediction models were dropped and that Ohio has reportedly already gone through what may have been considered its peak season for COVID-19 outbreak and that any jumps were likely due to recent reports of Ohio prison population outbreaks.
“If you exclude prison population which is about 3,500 to 4,000 of positives in Ohio, our peak was probably five or 600 at the very most and it’s hard to figure out what that number is. We haven’t had the surge,” said Canady.
The doctor noted that he felt southeastern Ohio had a “built-in” social distancing mechanism due to it being a rural region and that the area would likely not hit initially predicted surge numbers.
He noted that Holzer had ample testing supplies to send to exterior labs but lacked a reagent to be able to do tests on-site which the health system was looking to acquire, as many other health systems are also looking to do. Once the health system is able to acquire the necessary viral extraction kits and the proper reagents, they can run a few hundred on-site tests a day. The CEO was uncertain of how soon those resources may reach Holzer but the health system was seeking them daily.
The CEO said he felt confident in Holzer’s supply of a few weeks worth of personal protective equipment and resources to handle a potential surge of disease, if it were to happen, due to earlier measures taken. However, the CEO noted that should Holzer not start taking patients for elective procedures, the hospital’s finances would be in a precarious position. He noted that nearly half of Holzer’s revenue was down since the elective procedures had stopped. While other health systems had furloughed or laid off employees, Canady said that Holzer had not and extended loss of revenue could lead to loss of employees.
“We are a regional economic engine,” said Canady as the health system is often noted for being one of the larger employers in the region and the largest in Gallia County.
Canady said that Holzer facilities were safe to attend with what he considered good personal protective equipment numbers. All facilities were screening individuals entering buildings with temperature measurements and questions asked about travel history and health symptoms.
The CEO said that individuals seeking a test needed to contact their primary care physician and not just show up at the emergency room. Testing facilities have been created outside Holzer facilities in Jackson, Gallipolis and Pomeroy. The reason for this was so that medical professionals could prepare and take the appropriate protective procedures for medical staff and patients so that individuals who may have the disease were not simply waiting in a lobby area and potentially spreading it to others. Those waiting for a test are asked to remain at home in isolation, pending the result of their test.
As of Friday, Holzer has tested 315 patients. Eight of those patients were confirmed positive, that includes individuals who may have lived out-of-county. Patients tested negative at a Holzer facility numbered at 299 and total patients tested at a Holzer facility with tests pending numbered at eight. Holzer has facilities within six counties locally.
A physician’s order must be made for a patient to qualify for testing.
Canady noted that Holzer had a 24-hour hotline to help screen patients if their primary care physician worked with the system.
Editor’s note: More from this story will be available in upcoming Ohio Valley Publishing papers.
Dean Wright is a staff writer with Ohio Valley Publishing and can be reached at 740-446-2342.
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