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Merit Health River Region ready to treat COVID-19 patients when needed

As Warren County awaits its first confirmed case of COVID-19, local health care organizations and hospitals say they are ready for coronavirus patients.

Merit Health River Region CEO Ben Richaud spoke to a group of Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce members on a conference call Thursday morning. The call brought a group of business and community leaders together to discuss updates on the COVID-19 virus, related recommendations and steps being taken at the state and local level to support small businesses.

“We are entirely prepared to take care of immediate acute care cases of anybody that presents to our emergency department or to our primary care clinics,” he said. “We are prepared to identify those patients, provide them the appropriate isolation and we are prepared to inform people both internally and externally at the local, state and national level.

“(We are prepared) for a variety of different presentations and conditions,” he continued. “What I mean by that is we want to take care of people in our emergency room that need emergency care services to any degree.”

When asked what the hospital has done to ensure the hospital has the capacity to take care of sick patients, Richaud cited local and national resources, as well as contingency planning.

“There are a lot of different scenarios we have access to and plans to expand capabilities if we need to,” he said. “We are considering a lot of different scenarios as to if there is an influx of patients, if there is a shortage of personal protective gear and equipment, who can we rely on at a state level, who can we rely on at a national level…

“There is a multitude of scenarios out there. It’s very easy to go down one particular rabbit hole and to focus on one scenario, but we have by and large a plethora of things with different probabilities that we would be prepared to undertake if the need occurs.”

Richaud also mentioned the hospital has had multiple collaborative conversations with local healthcare leaders, local healthcare officials, statewide providers and about 100 hospitals that Merit Health River Region is nationally affiliated with.

Merit Health is licensed for 361 beds locally. Representatives from the hospital declined to answer how many beds the hospital has, how many ICU beds the hospital has, and how many of each were occupied.

Merit Health has also implemented some changes to its operations to ensure the safety of employees, patients and visitors.

These changes include a revised visitor policy that encourages patient families to consider remote visits using a telephone or video chat. Rules for essential in-person visits are as follows:

Adult patients: Visitation will not be permitted (unless otherwise granted exception below)

Pediatric patients: Visitation will permit two adult visitors, and both must be parents, guardians, or caregivers

Exceptions to the revised policy include:

Obstetric patients may be accompanied by one partner and one birth support person

Adult patients who have been determined by the care team to be at the “end-of-life” may be visited by members of the immediate family

Patients receiving treatment in the Emergency Department may be accompanied by one visitor. The Emergency Department waiting room will be restricted to patients and their one respective visitor

Every effort will be made to grant requests from a patient or family member for a visit from a chaplain, chaplain intern, Eucharistic minister, community clergy, or other spiritual advisor

Other exceptions not listed above will be considered on a case-by-case basis

Additionally, the policy states “Only well, essential visitors such as immediate family, partner or significant other ages 18 and older may visit patients, following the revised restrictions. People who have traveled to a high-risk area for COVID-19 or had contact with a person known to be infected with COVID-19 are not permitted to visit patients.”

Richaud said access to main parrts of the hospital have been restricted to eliminate all “nonessential activities.”

“We have taken drastic steps to ensure our operation is prepared,” he said.

About Catherine Hadaway

Catherine Hadaway, as The Vicksburg Post’s publisher, oversees the business operations of the newspaper. She is a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala. and is a graduate of Rhodes College in Memphis where she earned bachelor’s degrees in Business and Religion. She is a Director of Boone Newspapers, Inc., the family company that owns The Post. Catherine comes from a long line of newspaper publishers, starting with her grandfather, Buford Boone, who served as publisher of The Tuscaloosa News and earned journalism's highest honor when he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his editorial titled "What a Price for Peace." Catherine is a member of The Rotary Club of Vicksburg, Vicksburg Young Professionals, The Heritage Guild and The Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

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