Sentara RMH has plans to handle additional COVID-19 cases but stays quiet on testing, equipment questions

In this photo taken on March 19, 2020 the Sentara RMH website states “Effective Monday, March 16, all routine visiting was being suspended until the transmission of COVID-19 is no longer a threat to our patients, staff and community.”

By Calvin Pynn, contributor

Harrisonburg has 87 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday – the most out of all localities in the Central Shenandoah Health District, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. The District also confirmed its first COVID-19-related death over the weekend, but did not confirm the age, location or any other information specific to that person. 

Sentara Rockingham Memorial Hospital has been preparing for the increase, while implementing new procedures, such as aggressive screening of visitors and, according to a spokeswoman, by preparing areas within the hospital for additional treatment areas should the region see an even sharper spike in cases. 

Sentara RMH spokesperson Jenn Downs answered some questions via email sent by The Citizen regarding working conditions and safety precautions at the hospital, although Sentara officials opted not to answer other questions, specifically about equipment and testing availability. 

Q. What are you telling staff to reassure them that their safety is important? What are you doing to demonstrate that?

“The safety of our patients and staff is of uppermost importance. We are following CDC and VDH guidelines to ensure the safety of our staff—encouraging staff to practice social distancing as much as possible, to wear masks and other PPE, as appropriate, when working with patients, reducing the numbers of visitors to the hospital, and screening those who do come into the building to help limit the possibility of exposure as much as possible. In our outpatient clinics, we are encouraging virtual visits as much as possible to help protect staff as well as patients.”

Q. Are staff being asked to use personal protective equipment (PPE) for longer periods of time than would have been standard practice before this pandemic? If so, how do you know this is safe?

“We are continuing to closely monitor our PPE usage and are managing and triaging PPE as needed. We are currently collecting PPE for reprocessing and sterilization according to directives established by the CDC should that become necessary at some point in time. Staff are currently not being asked to use reprocessed PPE.”

Q. What are the current sanitation policies for staff at the hospital?

“We are asking staff to follow the standard practices for infection control—frequent and effective hand washing, covering the mouth and nose to prevent infection via droplet contact, using ‘PPE buddies’ to help staff members put on and take off their protective equipment, and following established infection control procedures for cleaning patient rooms where we have had patients with infectious diseases, including COVID-19.  We’re also encouraging staff who provide patient care to avoid wearing their hospital scrubs home, but to change instead before going into their houses, and to launder their hospital clothing after each use.”

Q. How many beds are specifically for COVID-19 patients? What happens if all the COVID-19 designated beds get filled?

“Fortunately, so far we have not seen a serious spike in the number of cases in our area.  Should that happen, we have identified additional areas within our hospital where we can care for COVID-19 patients (presumed or verified) in the event of a surge. We also have plans in place to reallocate hospital staff to help meet the need for care providers should that surge occur. We also have limited the number of non-essential procedures to help us reallocate staff and resources to areas of greatest need. Finally, as part of a 12-hospital Sentara system, we have the ability to leverage resources across the state should our area become a center of increased COVID-19 cases.”

Other questions weren’t answered

Sentara declined to answer questions in The Citizen’s initial email regarding concerns from hospital staff about working conditions at Sentara RMH, as well as specific numbers regarding availability of  hand sanitizer, ICU beds and protective equipment or COVID-19 testing at the hospital. 

Q. We are being contacted by multiple people who work at the hospital and are concerned, angry or frightened about potentially unsafe working conditions at Sentara RMH during the pandemic. Is the hospital management hearing similar concerns? If so, what are you telling staff to reassure them that their safety is important? What are you doing to demonstrate that? 


Q. Have any staff members been tested/tested positive for COVID-19? 


Q. How many essential staff members does Sentara have at the Harrisonburg hospital? 


Q. How many masks are medical personnel able to use per day?


Q. How many of the following are staff members allowed to use per shift?: Gowns, head covers, masks, shoe covers, face shields, gloves, goggles.


Q. What brand of hand sanitizer is being provided for use by ER staff? Is it on this list or any other list put out by a reputable organization that attests to its effectiveness against the novel coronavirus?


Q. How many ventilators does Sentara RMH have?


Q. How many ICU beds are available at the hospital? 


Q. How many ICU beds (or ICU beds reserved for COVID-19 patients) are occupied? 


Q. One what date did Sentara RMH first start testing people for COVID-19? 


Q. How many COVID-19 tests have been given at or through Sentara RMH since then? 


Q. How many COVID-19 presumptive positive patients does Sentara currently have? 


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