Hospitals prepare for coronavirus

Friday, March 20, 2020
Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center is taking steps to protect patients and staff, while preparing for the potential of a surge in coronavirus cases.

Area medical facilities are limiting visitors, cancelling elective procedures and taking other steps as they address concerns over COVID-19.


Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center is “taking proactive steps to prepare for the protection of patients, our caregivers and the community,” said Lacey McClintock, director of marketing and community relations Friday.

Saint Francis Health System is reducing the number of entrances open at its facilties and taking other measures during the current coronavirus pandemic.

The hospital, McClintock said, is “using the screening guidelines for symptoms and risk factors” and has “a response plan to protect patients and our staff, should it be needed.”

Currently, if a physician determines a patient meets the established risk criteria, “they will coordinate testing and the patient’s ultimate disposition,” McClintock said.

In addition, the physician will coordinate with the health department as necessary.

“We understand the sensitivity at this time and want to reassure the community that we remain alert and ready to provide such care if necessary,” McClintock emphasized.

With the potential for a surge in patients affected by the coronavirus, McClintock said, the hospital is making preparations and “reviewing our inventory and protocols regularly.”

The hospital, McClintock said, also is working closely with the Butler County Health Department because “they have the best picture of what resources are available in our community and region.”

The hospital also has rooms set aside to isolate patients with the virus.

“These negative-pressure rooms have a special ventilation system,” McClintock said.

The main entrance at both Poplar Bluff facilities, on Oak Grove Road and on Westwood Boulevard, now are closed.

At the Oak Grove campus, McClintock said, visitors and patients “coming in for procedures should come to the Physicians Office Plaza entrance. The emergency room is still open to those in need of emergency medical care.”

At the Westwood Boulevard campus, McClintock said, the behavioral health unit is not accepting visitors at this time. Cancer patients can enter through the doors under the canopy at the Danny Bell Cancer Center.

All visitors to the hospital facilities now are being screened, including temperature, before they are allowed entry.

Anyone meeting the following criteria may not be a visitor to any PBRMC building until further notice:

Anyone age 65 or over; under age 13;

Anyone with a fever above 100.4;

Anyone with respiratory symptoms, including cough or shortness of breath;

Anyone with flu-like symptoms, including runny nose, sore throat, chills or muscle aches;

Anyone who has traveled to a high-risk area or has had contact with a COVID-19 patient.

All patients, McClintock said, can have two visitors, while outpatients can have one.

In the labor and delivery/post-partum unit, only a single adult (age 18 and up) visitor per laboring/delivered mother is allowed, and they must be the same person through the duration of the stay.

Saint Francis

Meanwhile, Saint Francis Healthcare System has issued guidelines and procedures for its facilities.

Saint Francis Healthcare issued new guidance Thursday evening for patients, visitors and others visiting their campuses as the COVID-19 coronavirus situation continues to develop.

“We are monitoring the COVID-19 situation continuously and following the guidance and direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as state and county officials. Saint Francis Healthcare System has set up Incident Command and meets twice daily,” facility leaders said in a press release.

The changes include the closure of a fitness center at Dexter, limits to the number of people who accompany patients for appointments and the cancelation of all elective surgeries and procedures starting March 23.

For the safety of patients, visitors and staff, the following actions are being taken at Saint Francis Healthcare System:

• Staff are working on a Coronavirus Test Collection Center with the City of Cape Girardeau including police, fire, parks and recreation and leadership, Cape Girardeau County Public Health and SoutheastHEALTH.

• Saint Francis Healthcare System offers a dedicated Nurse Coronavirus Hotline. Our nurses answer any COVID-19 questions as well as provide screenings and next steps if needed. This hotline is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 573-331-4200. The plan is to extend hours and days as needed. This hotline is for calls related to coronavirus screening only. The screening questions can also be completed online at

Those who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 should call a hotline first to find out if they meet the strict guidelines. If they qualify, team members will direct the individual to one of three dedicated testing locations.

Saint Francis officials also said:

• We continue restricting visitors and entrance to Saint Francis Medical Center. Effective tomorrow, Friday, March 20, we are closing two more entrances. Entrances 1, 5, 6, 7 and 9 will be closed. Entrances 2, 3, 4 and 8 remain open with varied hours. Only two visitors are permitted per admitted patient for the entire hospitalization. No visitors are permitted for adult ICU, isolation, emergency or cancer patients. No visitor under the age of 12 are permitted. No visitors are permitted entry after 10 p.m. All visitors and patients are screened upon each entry into the Medical Center.

• We are limiting the number of people who accompany patients to a scheduled appointment or Urgent Care visit at all clinic locations. All visitors or family members will be asked to return to their vehicles. Exceptions are made for those accompanying minor children who have appointments or the elderly and people with a disability who need assistance. All patients and/or visitors are screened before entering our clinics.

• Beginning Monday, March 23, Saint Francis Medical Center is postponing all elective surgeries and procedures until further notice.

• Both Fitness Plus locations (Cape Girardeau and Dexter) are closed until further notice. When Fitness Plus re-opens, all members will receive a credit reflecting the time closed.

• Outside clergy members are no longer permitted to visit patients. We will utilize our own Pastoral Care staff and electronic methods to minister to patients.


SoutheastHEALTH also has made changes to its procedures.

In a release, the hospital said, it is announcing that “effective Monday, March 23, elective surgeries at Southeast Hospital will be postponed. It took this action under the advisement and recommendations of state and federal reporting entities.

“We will continue to accept urgent cases as they come to us. This precautionary measure, while unprecedented for SoutheastHEALTH, is to help us preserve critical personal protective equipment (PPE) while keeping bedside clinicians in our hospital and our community constituents as safe as possible,” officials said. “Southeast’s current supply level is good. However, the situation evolves daily. If we experience a critical need, we will follow the protocol for reporting to the Southeast Region’s Non-Urban Healthcare Coalition.”

John J. Pershing VAMC

At the John J. Pershing VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff, Libby Johnson, associate director and crisis management incident commander, announced the local hospital has implemented “Tier 2” COVID-19 planning measures effective as of Wednesday.

“None of our patients have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and up to now, our preparedness management measures have focused on minimizing exposure for vulnerable veteran populations (hospital and nursing home residents), educating staff and veterans, and screening patients for COVID-19 indications,” stated Johnson.

“However, additional precautionary measures are prudent at this point, given the continued national growth of infections. Now that we have received national guidance to halt non-urgent elective procedures, we will implement Tier 2 actions in a systematic and controlled manner,” Johnson explained.

Johnson explained that Tier 2 procedures will include screening all entrants (staff, veterans, contractors, and visitors) to medical center grounds, applying advanced staffing plans and utilizing telemedicine where possible.

“All entrances to the medical center will be closed to traffic except the front (main) entrance, which will be used for veteran access, and the rear entrance, which will be used by employees,” Johnson said. “Veterans will need to enter the building through the current urgent care entrance (north side of the medical center) as all other doors to the main facility will be closed to non-staff traffic. Screening posts will also be established for the community clinics in Farmington, Cape Girardeau, Sikeston and West Plains, Missouri, as well as Paragould and Pocahontas, Arkansas. The Salem, Missouri, clinic will be temporarily closed due to staffing shortages and other concerns.”

Other measures Johnson described that took effect on Wednesday include:

Halting non-urgent elective procedures GI/GU, dental, and optometry

Discontinuing the shuttle to VA St. Louis Health Care Center (John Cochran and Jefferson Barracks VA Medical Centers)

Temporarily closing on site Veterans Service Offices (American Legion, VFW, and DAV)

Temporarily closing the medical center branch of the Ozark Federal Credit Union

Temporarily halting the volunteer program

Reviewing and possibly canceling some group activities and therapies

Reviewing and curtailing some Veterans Transportation Service (VTS) routes

Limiting visitors at all locations to one accompanying immediate family member or caregiver allowed within the building for scheduled appointments. No one under the age of 18 is allowed in the VAMC or its clinics.

Allowing only animals needed for Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) purposes (such as seeing-eye dogs) on station.

Accepting scheduled deliveries only through the north entrance.

Postponing all food bank distributions until further notice.

The nursing home and acute care areas remain closed to visitors (from Tier 1)

“These proactive actions will assist with reducing the spread of the virus, and protecting our veterans, employees and communities,” Johnson said. “Reducing unnecessary procedures will free up resources to address possible increases in the number of veterans under evaluation.”

Johnson said the medical center will remain open for urgent and clinical needs.

“We hope our veterans will remember to call before they come if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms, fever or respiratory distress,” she said, citing the main call center number of 573-686-4151. “We will explore options for virtual visits and other ways to help keep them safe at home.”

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