War Memorial staff trained for safety, prepped for patient surge

by Kate Shunney

Morgan County’s hospital has taken multiple steps to protect their healthcare workers and prepare for a potential surge of patient cases, said Valley Health system officials this week.

Tom Kluge, President of War Memorial Hospital, said all employees of Valley Health hospitals have had “a lot of training” in the appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPEs) to reduce their exposure to infection as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the area.

War Memorial treats patients from not just West Virginia, but Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Kluge said nurses and other hospital staff are versed in the appropriate quarantine steps for COVID-positive patients, those suspected of having the virus, and themselves if they have been exposed to confirmed cases.

Health care workers who have recently traveled to areas with high viral cases are being asked not to come to work for a period of time, Kluge said.

Local visitor access to War Memorial Hospital has been shut down for now. This week, the hospital is limiting its outpatient services, said Heather Sigel, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer.

Sigel said patients will get more telemedicine care through hospital providers, meaning they will see and speak to doctors and specialists through a screen instead of in person.

All of these steps are meant to reduce traffic in and out of the hospital and lower person-to-person contact where possible.

Patients are still getting medical care at War Memorial Hospital, but the waiting room is a little emptier, Sigel said.

Anyone coming into the main entrance is being screened, having their temperature taken and asked about any symptoms tied to respiratory illness.

Signs at the doors of the hospital ask patients who are experiencing shortness of breath, fever or dry cough to return to their car and call the hospital staff to determine their next steps of care, said Kluge.

Sigel said War Memorial Hospital has not treated a confirmed case of COVID-19, but staff have seen patients with respiratory illness.

“We’ve had several we are ruling out,” Sigel said.

Testing of patients can be done at the hospital, but viral testing is largely being referred to drive-up clinics at Berkeley Medical Center, Meritus Health and the Valley Health Urgent Care in northern Winchester at Rutherford Crossing.

Hospital staff and officials have done planning for a “patient surge” as part of their normal operations, but also in response to COVID-19.

“We do have a surge plan in place,” said Sigel.

A yellow tent is set up on the northern end of the hospital for possible future use, “if we get to a place where we need to do testing,” Sigel said.

While War Memorial Hospital is licensed for 25 beds and has the capacity to treat a wide variety of cases, hospital officials said severe cases will be treated elsewhere.

“A positive COVID patient would be transferred to Winchester Medical Center,” Kluge said.

Sigel said War Memorial has rooms and equipment to treat respiratory illnesses, but Valley Health’s facility has areas and staff to better handle highly infectious disease. The Winchester hospital has ventilators and ICU to care for very ill patients.

War Memorial Hospital also has 16 beds in their long-term care unit. Many patients there are at the highest risk for severe illness if they come into contact with the coronavirus.

“We’re being really protective of them,” said Kluge.