Hospital enacts further access restrictions

Mar 19, 2020

Central Peninsula Hospital is implementing additional restrictions starting Friday at 5 a.m. to reduce impacts of the spread of the COVID-19 virus if and when it comes to the Kenai-Soldotna area.

On Tuesday, the hospital limited all nonessential access. The cafeteria and gift shop are closed. Volunteers are asked to stay home, cardiac and pulmonary rehab services are curtailed and community classes, programs and the spring health fair are canceled. Unless you have an appointment at a specific hospital clinic or need emergency room services, the public is asked not to come to the hospital. And the state announced today a new mandate that all non-emergency surgeries and dental procedures be postponed for three months.

Starting Friday, health screening will be required of anyone coming to the hospital. Screening stations will be open at the main entrance from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., the River Tower front entrance from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and the emergency department entrance 24 hours a day.

Bruce Richards, external affairs director at the hospital, said they’d eventually like to take people’s temperature in the screenings, but that equipment is in high demand at the moment. 

“But we’re going to definitely ask the screening questions about symptoms, traveling, have you been exposed to anybody you know of who has it, those kinds of things. So we can at least narrow down who’s coming in, where they’ve been and how they’re feeling,” Richards said.

Additionally, until further notice, only one visitor, 18 years or older, is allowed at a time per patient at the hospital. This includes pediatric patients, labor and delivery, ICU, patients with mental disabilities, and in the emergency department. Visitors for end-of-life situations will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Heritage Place, the hospital’s assisted-living facility, is closed to all public access except in end-of-life situations, and those visitors must wear personal protective equipment.

Richards said CPH is following the protocols of other hospitals in the state and country to limit nonessential access. He said the hospital is prepared for an outbreak of the virus locally, but want to do everything they can to limit the scope of an outbreak in the community and protect hospital patients and staff preventively.

“My big concern would be if we aren’t able to stop that initial flood if it comes here. That seems to be what overwhelmed the other locations is they just get overrun. But a lot of places didn’t have any kind of restrictions in place ahead of time. Me, personally, I’m grateful that a lot of that stuff is taking place now — closing public buildings and restaurants and bars. And I know it’s a huge inconvenience but I think it makes a big difference and I guess we’re going to find that out,” he said.

Richards said the message seems to be received that people should stay home unless they absolutely have to go out, at least among people with health issues.

“Our volumes have fallen off. People aren’t keeping appointments. They’re not going. The emergency room’s not seeing its normal volume of patients, even. Our ER volumes are probably half. They’re less than half,” he said.

Richards said the current estimate is that 85 percent of people who contract COVID-19 can recover at home without needing medical services, but he doesn’t want that statistic to give people the impression that younger, healthier people shouldn’t follow guidelines on staying home and social distancing.

“It’s hard to convince kids why this is important. They’re all hearing, talking amongst themselves that, ‘Hey, this doesn’t affect us, why shouldn’t we go to school?’ But they don’t think about, well, you go to school, get this and go to see grandma, guess what? That’s not a good scenario,” he said.

Richards said he’s working on education about how to self-isolate effectively at home. If someone does feel sick with a cough, a fever or respiratory problems and needs to see a physician, doctors and nurses are available. But Richards stresses that patients absolutely need to call first, whether they go to the hospital or their primary care provider.

“Always call ahead before you go because everybody’s trying to take precautions not only to protect patients but protect staff so that we’ll be there when other stuff comes. And that’s a big deal. Getting the healthcare working population sick is not a good scenario, either,” he said.

The hospital does not have the capability to test for COVID-19 locally. They can take nasal swabs and send specimens out for testing.