Russell County Hospital battles surge of COVID cases

The number of COVID cases in Russell County has increased sharply over the last few weeks

On July 16, the Lake Cumberland District Health Department reported that there were no active cases in the county. Fast forward nearly six weeks later and Russell County has 134 active cases with as many as 174 active at one point during that period of time.

The increase in the number of COVID cases has had an impact at Russell County Hospital. There is a lot more stress on nurses and other healthcare workers, more ER patients, and cars lined up outside to receive a COVID test. Despite the challenges, Russell County Hospital CEO Patrick Branco said RCH will continue to weather the storm and serve the community.

“I want to reassure the Russell County community that we are here, we’re open for business, and we’re able to manage the course of this disease the best we can and we have good resources, along with an incredible and committed team that is dedicated to taking care of our patients,” Branco said.

Dr. Richard Perkins, the Emergency Room Director and Chief Hospitalist at Russell County Hospital, has been face-to-face with COVID-19 more times than he can count. He said the hospital is absolutely seeing an increase in the number of COVID patients, but so far the hospital has been able to manage the increase.

“A lot of bigger hospitals in the area aren’t able to take patients right now,” Perkins said. “We’ve been fortunate in that regard and we’ve been able to manage our people and not hold people too long without a room.”

But Perkins said the hospital is seeing a trend of people who do not need emergency care coming to the ER seeking to be tested for COVID-19 or are experiencing very mild symptoms. He said that can place a strain on ER resources and personnel.

“We unfortunately have a lot of people come that could be managed in other settings,” Perkins said. “But on the other hand, we unfortunately have some people wait until they are in a really bad condition to seek care because they aren’t sure what to do.”

Perkins said anyone who is having problems breathing, chest pains/pressure, alterations in mentation, and other similar symptoms definitely need to come in and be evaluated.

“Anyone who is in any kind of distress needs to come in and be evaluated,” Perkins said. “We want to make sure that nobody who is seriously ill doesn’t get treatment in a timely fashion.”

But others who are concerned about a possible exposure or are experiencing mild symptoms can be tested by contacting their family physician or the RCH After Hours Clinic. Perkins said people who have just been exposed can help slow the spread of the virus by not immediately coming to the ER, where there are several non-COVID patients who have other health conditions that would put them at high risk of severe COVID infection.

“We have people in the ER who are really sick and the last thing we want is for them to get sick with COVID as well,” Perkins said.

Barry Corbin is the Director of Professional Services at RCH. He manages the hospital’s clinics, Family Practice Associates, Primary Care Associates, and the After Hours Clinic.

“What we would suggest people to keep the spread from happening more is if you’ve been exposed, call one of the clinics and let us set a time to test you,” Corbin said. “We have places we can test you and we like to do it on a scheduled basis so we don’t overrun the clinics and we don’t want you to go to the ER if it’s just something like that and we don’t want to flood the ER. We can do testing in those clinics and get results back pretty quickly.”

An awning on the water tower side of the hospital is set up for COVID testing where someone from the hospital comes to a person’s car to test them, but those tests are done from a physician referral, so people would need to see their family physician to be referred for a COVID test before being tested there.

“If your doctor says let’s get you tested, that’s what that is for and oftentimes it is as simple as a phone call,” Branco said. “It’s pretty straightforward. We want this to be medically sound, medically based, and make sure that for every positive, there is a physician accountable for that patient to guarantee the continuity of care happens.”

“That’s also a protection for our staff,” Branco said. “That is less people that we bring in and bring through our hallways that could possibly be positive and that’s more exposure for our staff.”

RCH provides monoclonal antibody treatments, currently in the form of an infusion that can be used early on especially with people who are at high risk for severe disease. The infusion provides antibodies for the patient that can be used to fight off the virus, and has been utilized hundreds of times on COVID patients at RCH.

“Basically anyone who is at high risk for progression of serious disease is eligible,” Perkins said. “That could be because of age, weight, or an existing medical problem. I’ve had it myself, so I can vouch that it’s very effective. It’s amazing how it works.”

Perkins said that another method of giving the antibodies through injection is being looked at but not yet available.

For people that are more serious in the hospital, Perkins said the hospital can provide medications aimed at treating COVID-19. However, Perkins said the key continues to be treating patients early on.

“The earlier we treat it, the better because we can hopefully prevent it from progressing into a more serious disease,” Perkins said.

Treatments can be given within a few days of onset of symptoms, Perkins said, preferably within the first 2-3 days.

Branco and Perkins credit the RCH staff for their tireless work ethic and dedication to providing quality care.

“They started as heroes in my mind and remain as heroes,” Branco said.

“Our nursing and in fact our whole hospital are working really hard right now,” Perkins said. “Just in things like keeping rooms clean, it takes more work than normal in cleaning rooms. Our staff is oftentimes working without meal breaks and it’s just incredible. They’re doing it to try to take care of people and keep people safe. We’ve got an amazing group.”

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Zac Oakes is the News and Sports Director for LakerCountry.com and Laker Country WJRS 104.9 FM.