During the past week, University Hospital medical teams have rehearsed their response to a potential flood of COVID-19 patients checking in at the Emergency Department.
Two large tents erected outside the emergency entrance are serving as the triage site for quickly identifying patients who may be infected with the virus. In mock drills, teams separate possible COVID-19 patients from others needing treatment because of car accidents, heart problems, burns and other traditional conditions.
“We have designed this to be able to handle a large volume of patients,” said Dr. Christina Bird, the Emergency Department medical director for University Health System and UT Health. “We just don’t know when that’s going to happen.
In the event of a surge in patients, emergency teams will implement a process that begins with a quick assessment at a nurse’s station outside the main emergency entrance. Patients will be given masks. Those without COVID-19 symptoms will be directed into the hospital for standard emergency care. Those who may be COVID-positive and in distress will be sent to indoor isolation rooms for further treatment.
Patients who are stable, but concerned about COVID-19 symptoms, will be escorted to evaluation stations inside the tent. Medical teams there will determine if the patients need testing for the virus and hospitalization. Those with mild symptoms will be released and given instructions for monitoring their condition.
The 20-by-40 foot main tent is equipped with 24 evaluation stations. A second tent is available for patient screening if needed.
Dr. Bird says the exercises are acquainting the hospital’s medical providers with procedures that will allow them to act decisively. She says San Antonio is fortunate it wasn’t the first location inundated with a large volume of sick patients. Her staff has had an opportunity to learn from other hard-hit cities like New York and New Orleans.
“We can use that to change our processes, to make sure we’re ready to handle it,” she said. “It’s given us time to develop things like this and to do a mock run so we’re ready to go.”