Nashville area hospitals say their emergency rooms should not be the first stop for patients if they’re worried they may have the coronavirus. But they are preparing for a surge all the same.
The city’s busiest emergency department is even constructing a temporary structure in its parking garage. Across the street from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the hospital has constructed a makeshift screening center to see patients in the coming weeks.
Patients who show up at the ER are already met by nurses in masks and protective gowns and screened outside the ER. Once the new facility is done, they will be walked or wheeled to the outpost on the third floor of a parking garage. There, they will be tested for coronavirus and either sent home for isolation or, if their symptoms require it, treated in protected parts of the hospital.
“The Vanderbilt Adult Emergency Department is not a designated assessment site and will maintain strict infection prevention measures to protect the health of the fragile population it serves,” VUMC says in a statement. “Unless symptoms are very serious, individuals are discouraged from coming to the Adult Emergency Department for COVID-19 assessment.”
Hospitals are trying to balance infection control and welcoming sick patients.
HCA Tristar hospitals have begun requiring patients to enter through a limited number of doors and asking everyone who walks in about how they’re feeling and their travel history.
‘We Know We Can Provide Safe And Effective Care’
Chief Medical Officer Tama VanDecar says it’s not an effort to turn away anyone.
“Trying to ban patients in anyway is not appropriate to be able to effectively care for the community,” she says. “We know we can provide safe and effective care.”
But all hospitals say patients should call the state’s hotline and try to see their primary care physician before presenting in an ER. And if they must come, hospitals ask that they call ahead so they can be met outside.
“To have everybody with a mild cough show up to an ER would prevent those who are seriously ill from getting the access they need,” VanDecar says.
Many hospitals have also limited visitors, as they regularly do during heavy flu seasons. Williamson Medical Center is the first in the region to ban visitation outright.
Williamson County has more cases than anywhere in the state, with eight confirmed as of Thursday afternoon.