‘We are well prepared’ | Tidelands Health ERs ready for coronavirus


A sense of determination permeates the emergency departments at Tidelands Health hospitals.
As the COVID-19 coronavirus began spreading internationally then reached the U.S., it was only a matter of time before the new illness was identified our region.
Long before, the health system began developing and implementing comprehensive plans to respond to the coronavirus across the not-for-profit organization’s 60-plus care locations.
Inside the health system’s emergency departments, rigorous treatment and infection prevention protocols already in place have been enhanced even further with the coronavirus in mind.
“We know it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Dr. William Richmond, an emergency medicine physician and director of emergency services at Tidelands Health. “We are well prepared.
“Our goal is to provide our patients with the high-quality treatment they expect while also keeping other patients and our team members safe.”

Extensive plans

Dr. Richmond said it’s important only patients with true medical emergencies seek care in hospital emergency departments. Otherwise, individuals concerned they have symptoms of the coronavirus should call their primary care physician or other qualified care provider before coming to the provider’s office so appropriate precautions can be taken.

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As with other entry points, every patient who enters an emergency department entrance at Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital and Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital is screened before he or she can proceed. Patients with flu-like symptoms are given a facemask and segregated from others in specially designated parts of the ER waiting room or treatment rooms.
Physicians, nurses and other team members who interact with those patients wear personal protective gear, which helps protect both the patient and clinical team. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers caregivers who properly use the appropriate protective gear to be at low or no risk for exposure to the coronavirus — even if caring for a patient confirmed to have the illness.

High-quality care

Then the teams in the emergency departments do what they do best – provide compassionate, high-quality care. Depending on the individual’s symptoms, the attending ER physician will order testing for illnesses such as the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia or coronavirus as part of the patient’s care plan.

In alignment with CDC guidelines, patients with mild symptoms who are awaiting the results of coronavirus testing can be sent home to self-quarantine until results are available. If the individual is experiencing complications that require hospitalization, the patient will be admitted.
“Our providers are prepared and well informed,” Dr. Richmond said. “We do this stuff every day, not necessarily with this specific virus, but with all kind of infections – some of which are much more deadly than this one.
“Whether a patient has coronavirus or another type of illness, we’re ready to provide the care they need.”

Surge strategy

To optimize the provision of safe, high-quality patient care, the emergency departments at Tidelands Health hospitals will be opening medical tents to triage individuals who arrive with less severe symptoms. The tents, which will not offer COVID-19 testing, are part of a surge strategy to expand the critical care units at both hospitals.
“Most people who become infected with the illness will be able to safely recover at home without personally interacting with a health care professional, and many of those who need care can be seen at a primary care office rather than an emergency department,” Dr. Richmond said. “It’s critical we manage emergency department volumes effectively so individuals with critical needs receive the prompt care they deserve. “

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As the region’s MUSC Health affiliate, Tidelands Health is encouraging individuals with flu-like symptoms to use the no-cost MUSC Health virtual screening tool at muschealth.org to help determine if they need to make an appointment with a care provider. Individuals in need of follow-up care will be contacted by a local care provider to schedule an appointment. In the alternative, individuals can call their family physician and schedule an appointment. Of course, in an emergency, people should call 911.

Broader plan

Dr. Richmond noted the preparations within the health system’s ERs are among many steps the health system has taken in response to the coronavirus. The health system continues to coordinate with other regional hospitals, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and the CDC in those efforts, which also include limiting the number of public entrances to its hospitals and visitation restrictions.
The health system has also taken a leading role in community education and preparedness, offering a variety of tools and information via a coronavirus information center at tidelandshealth.org.

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