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Rebuilding America: Health care facilities, nursing homes keep safety policies in place

Elisabeth Slay
SSM Health Medical Group-Shawnee, local nursing homes

As Shawnee and surrounding areas continue the beginning phases of reopening stores and restaurants after the first wave of COVID-19, SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee and local nursing homes continue to limit unnecessary visitations with policies in place to keep residents and patients safe.

According to Carla Tollett, SSM Health Communications and Marketing Consultant, the hospital is continuing to suspend all patient visitors.

"This (includes) closing all lobby and waiting areas and our Café will be closed to visitors," Tollett said.

However, Tollett said some exceptions are made for visitors 18-years and older including: one visitor for the entire stay per laboring patient in the Joyful Beginnings Labor and Delivery, one visitor for Pediatric Patients, compassionate care exceptions for emergency and end-of-life critical situations or when a visitor is essential for the patient’s emotional well-being, such as dementia.

Tollett said all visitor exceptions must be discussed and approved by the leader on duty at the hospital. "All entrants must pass the screening process prior to entering the building.  If you fit in one of the exception categories listed above, please speak with the leader on duty," Tollett said. "Once you arrive at the specific unit, you will need to check in at the desk to obtain a visitor band."

According to Karen Rose, M.D., co-chair of SSM Health Medical Group Broad Testing Initiative, while visitation is limited, the hospital is offering asymptomatic testing to existing SSM Health Medical Group patients.

Rose said in addition to nasal swab testing for patients with symptoms, the hospital can now test people to see if they actively have COVID-19 or had it in the past and show no symptoms.

"We (introduced) antibody testing, which helps tell us whether or not you have been previously infected with COVID-19 and have had a response to it," Rose said.

Rose said to ensure the best results, SSM Health advises people to take advantage of both testing options.

"We ask that people who want to do antibody testing also have the (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing because it allows us to have a more accurate result," Rose said. "The antibody testing we're doing won't tell us if you're infected right now."

The pediatrician said there are still many unknowns regarding COVID-19 and these antibody tests, though helpful, are not perfect.

Rose said getting both tests allows for more solid results and the best course of action for patients who have or had the virus.

Rose said currently the hospital has enough tests for people to get both the PCR and antibody test without running out.

In addition to antibody testing, Rose said the hospital has developed a booth for doctors to safely administer PCR tests but the booths will most likely be used when there are less patients.

Rose said this new testing method is for existing SSM Health Medical Group patients and to schedule an appointment at the clinic people need to call (405) 273-5801.

Medical Director of the Emergency Department Dr. A.C. Husenn, as places continue to reopen and people return to work, SSM Health is prepared to treat COVID-19 patients if needed.

Husenn said the Emergency Department as SSM Health has prepared isolation rooms in the building to treat those with symptoms and keep other patients and medical staff safe.

Should they need to, Husenn said the rooms are equipped with everything doctors need to treat COVID-19 cases.

The medical professional said while the Emergency Department will treat COVID-19 patients, he also encourages people in Shawnee and surrounding areas to seek emergency medical treatment for other health issues not related to the pandemic.

While people might fear contracting the virus by visiting the emergency room, Husenn said the chances of that happening are extremely low as the hospital is constantly cleaning and disinfecting all of its departments to keep staff and patients safe.

Like SSM Health in Shawnee, local nursing homes including the Golden Rule Home in Bethel Acres and McLoud Nursing Center are continuing to implement strict visitation policies despite other places in the community opening back up.

According to Golden Rule Home Administrator Gwyn Gilkeson, nursing homes are remaining in lockdown and not allowing any unnecessary visitation.

Gilkeson said the nursing home is only allowing medical professionals to tend to patients.

However, Gilkeson said, though the nursing center remains closed to the public, the facility is planning a family and friends drive-by parade on June 6.

Overall, while places are rebuilding and reestablishing their businesses, facilities such as nursing homes and SSM Health are continuing to keep those most vulnerable safe from COVID-19.