POTSDAM — Even before COVID-19 came to Canton-Potsdam Hospital, the Emergency Department was ready, but the important thing that department Chairwoman Dr. Julie T. Vieth wants patients to know is that it is safe for all patients with medical emergencies.
Dr. Vieth, MBChB, FAAEM, FACEP, said her department was making preparations for the arrival of the virus when they realized the community would inevitably be impacted by its arrival.
“One of the things that we recognized that we needed to do was keep all of our patients and our staff safe and, to do that properly, we felt that we needed to take measures to keep certain patient populations separate from each other,” Dr. Vieth said. “So the emergency department expanded into some newer spaces, still all of the emergency department, but we converted some space into what we call the Emergency Department Respiratory Unit.”
That unit, which has five beds but is capable of expansion as needed, is designed for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients who come in. It separates those patients from the rest of the emergency department with a dedicated staff wearing full personal protective equipment.
“That room is under negative pressure, which is recommendations for airborne precautions, illness and infection control is always making sure that area is kept clean and we’re following all the guidelines from the CDC and the state health department on that,” Dr. Vieth said.
The Emergency Department Respiratory Unit is separate from the unit dedicated for confirmed or suspicious COVID-19 patients who need to be hospitalized or transferred from Massena or Gouverneur hospitals. That unit is called the Airborne Precautions Unit.
“What we have done as a health system is determine that all of our emergency departments are ready and able to safely take care of patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19,” Dr. Vieth said. “But what we implemented, again, as a system, that any patient requiring hospitalization with signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19 would be brought to one central location which is the AOPU at Canton-Potsdam Hospital.”
She said the emergency department is constantly adapting and is ready to see not just the COVID-19 patients 24 hours a day, but non-COVID-19 patients as well, but nationwide, a lot of hospitals that are not in the COVID-19 hot spots are seeing a decrease in emergency department patients.
And while the doctor said that was great because it means that people are listening to the stay-home recommendations and guidelines, it has also dropped the department’s volumes in other ways that were very unanticipated.
“If you talk to specialists across the country, we’re all seeing this and wondering, ‘where are our patients?’ We are seeing fewer of everything and the message we also want to get out there is our emergency departments are open,” Dr. Vieth said. “We are open to see patients that don’t have COVID-19 and we have ways of keeping those patients safe and healthy and to try to streamline their care though non-COVID areas of the hospital.”
Dr. Vieth said if patients have non-medical emergencies or health concerns that they feel could wait a bit, contact their primary physician if they have one but not to hesitate to visit the emergency department if they feel some sense of medical duress.
“That is what we are here for. Having been an emergency physician since 2009, my favorite patient is the one that comes in because they are scared or they’re unsure, and I can reassure them,” Dr. Vieth said. “It’s my job, with my training, to know what needs treatment right now and maybe be able to say, ‘you know what? I think things are OK right now, but here is what to look for in the future and if that happens, please come back.’
“I would rather do that than have patients sitting at home, having a heart attack and not coming into the emergency department,” she said. “I think if somebody feels they are having a medical emergency, please go to the emergency department, we are ready for you. This is what we do. We are trained to do this and we do it well.”