Wilson County is an oasis of success against COVID-19 at a time when the pandemic is causing mass cross contamination, furloughs and layoffs at medical facilities nationwide.
Becker’s Hospital Review reported as of April 7 that 266 healthcare systems have furloughed members of their respective staffs. Nevertheless, both Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital and TriStar Summit Medical Center have managed to focus on fighting the pandemic without the increasingly common personnel challenges.
Brian Marger, CEO of TriStar Summit Medical Center on Old Hickory Boulevard, said that he hasn’t furloughed or laid off a single employee throughout the course of the pandemic. This includes the staff at the Mt. Juliet emergency room. Moreover, he emphasized how much even his main facility, which is located in Hermitage, serves Wilson County residents.
TriStar has partly accomplished this by way of what they refer to as “pandemic pay,” a human resource program whereby employees still get paid even when there aren’t enough patients to necessitate the staff they have available. Marger says the policy is companywide for HCA Healthcare, TriStar’s parent company, and unique in the industry.
Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital’s Community Relations Director Traci Pope said the hospital, which is not-for-profit, has not laid off or furloughed any of its staff either. In fact, amid the pandemic, they’ve hired an additional 400 full- and part-time nurses, and she said they aren’t done recruiting.
The county’s medical community isn’t immune to the financial burden the pandemic has inflicted on the industry, however. Throughout March and most of April, Vanderbilt was negatively affected by the fact that Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital was only able to operate at around 50% capacity.
This impinged on revenues that feed Vanderbilt Wilson, and at the same time, the facility was pinched further by the need to forego elective procedures, which are among the primary revenue generators for hospital corporations.
“In general,” Pope said, “a full range of scheduled or elective procedures were halted to ensure the safety of our patients.”
Marger said that, nationwide, HCA Healthcare’s “volumes have been impacted significantly, certainly by the executive orders of the governors and stay-at-home orders of, you know, the various local governments — all very important but always significant impact to healthcare providers in general.”
TriStar’s emergency room volume has decreased significantly in Mt. Juliet, and they’ve placed a hold on elective surgeries for about two months now, which Marger said represents a major decline in revenue for the for-profit company.
The pandemic has claimed the focus of medical centers like TriStar and Vanderbilt, and this is largely due to their concentration on keeping their facilities safe from COVID-19.
These facilities screen everyone who enters — employees, visitors, vendors and everyone in between — by questioning them about whether or not they have coronavirus symptoms or have come into contact with anyone who has those same symptoms. They also take everyone’s temperature each time they enter the building. This procedure is roughly the same at both TriStar and Vanderbilt.
The difference shows up at TriStar’s Mt. Juliet Emergency Room due to compensating for the timeliness required for dealing with emergency entrants. Each visitor is immediately screened in isolation, and ushered directly to their rooms without delaying in the waiting room.
Marger describes what he calls “immediate bedding,” a means of ensuring that there’s no commingling of patients in the waiting room at all whether they’re infected with COVID-19 or not. Those suspected of having the virus, however, are also routed in, through and out of the facility via alternate directions, too. Marger credits these practices with their containment of the virus.
“Of the thousands of patients that we’ve seen,” Marger said, “through the COVID pandemic, there’s been zero reported cases of any patient getting hospital-acquired COVID, meaning there’s been no cross-contamination of any patient throughout this pandemic that we’re aware of.”
Tactics like these are partly made possible, though, by the fact that medical centers see less traffic than usual. Less people have been willing to visit a hospital during the pandemic due to the safer-at-home order and an inherent fear that hospitals are where the virus would be. As of May 29, Vanderbilt had only 27 adult patients in total, and only one of them was at Vanderbilt Wilson. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt’s clinics continue to see about 200 people a day simply for coronavirus testing.
“The volume of patients in the hospitals and clinics is noticeable but only a small fraction of overall daily activity,” Pope said. “We feel that this is the result of both the Governor’s and Nashville Mayor Cooper’s safer-at-home orders that flattened the curve on the spread of the virus.”