standing Westerly Hospital with YNHH Logo

Westerly Hospital. Photo courtesy Westerly Hospital

WESTERLY — Westerly Hospital hopes to have an outdoor specimen collection area established by the end of the week as it continues to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

Hospital personnel have conducted walk-through exercises and are awaiting approval from the state Department of Health to open the collection area, according to Dr. Oliver Mayorga, chief medical officer. "We'll work through the weekend if it's necessary" to set up the station, Mayorga said on Tuesday.

The specimen collection area will be for patients who have have received an order from their health care provider to be tested for the virus. The providers will send the orders to the hospital and hospital personnel will contact patients to set an appointment to come to the outdoor station. Patients will drive into the area and then leave their vehicles, sit in a chair, and have oral and nasal swabs administered by a nurse. Samples will be sent to laboratories run by the state health department, Yale New Haven Health, or Quest Diagnostics, a private firm. Results are typically available in three to five days, Mayorga said, noting that labs throughout the region are experiencing high demand.

Outdoor collecting areas have been recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because they permit good air flow and comply with social distancing precautions, Mayorga said. Yale New Haven Health, which operates the Westerly Hospital and L+M Hospital in New London, started a testing site at L+M on Tuesday morning. 

Hospital personnel and health care providers throughout the country are using a strategic approach in the face of the outbreak to ensure that gowns, masks and respirators are available for medical staff members.

"We're trying to keep our health care workers safe as well," Mayorga said, noting that Italy, which has been particularly hard hit by the virus, has encountered supply problems. "Our health care workers are our most important resource."

To that end, the hospital continues to work on educating staff about the importance of social distancing. Meetings of more than 10 people have been canceled, Mayorga said.

A daily tally of equipment is reported to the state health department, which that started compiling the information several weeks ago, Mayorga said. "Just like elsewhere in the country we don't have an infinite supply," he said.

"Testing kits and other resources, particularly personal protective equipment for hospital staff, is at a premium," Maorga said.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, is working to secure more equipment for the state's hospitals. During a one-on-one phone conversation with Vice President Mike Pence Monday night, Reed, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, urged the Trump administration to expand the availability of personal protective equipment and medical supplies for front-line medical staff members and first responders in Rhode Island.

"I had a productive call with Vice President Pence. The federal government needs to step up to assist Rhode Island. Governor Raimondo is leading and has requested additional federal supplies. The vice president is aware of those requests and I urged him to grant them expeditiously," Reed said in a news release.

"This isn’t a state issue, it is a pandemic and it requires a national response. I appreciate the vice president’s call and I strongly urge the Trump administration to get needed supplies like masks and swabs to Rhode Island so we don’t run short," the senator said. "I will continue working with all parties to improve our response capabilities. We’re in this thing together and we’re in it for the long haul."

The hospital is prepared to sequester coronavirus patients who are admitted for care to a particular part of the hospital and can sequester patients to a specific part of the emergency department. The hospital has an adequate number of ventilators, Mayorga said.

As of Tuesday morning no coronavirus tests administered at Westerly Hospital had come back positive, Mayorga said. Individuals who are not feeling well are advised to contact their health care provider as a first step. People who have a medical emergency should go directly to the hospital. "We're ready to care for people. That is our mission," he said.

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