Hospital addresses COVID-19 concerns

Refugio County Memorial Hospital Administrator Hoss Whitt has worked for the hospital for 15 years, including two as administrator. (Jeff Osborne photo)

REFUGIO – On the front lines in dealing with the coronavirus crisis or any health concern, Refugio County Memorial Hospital is helping to ensure people are protected and have access to the care they need.

Leading the efforts is Hoss Whitt, hospital administrator, who is also helping to coordinate the county’s response to COVID-19.

“We are obviously working with officials of each of the communities and with the county to make sure everybody is on the same page,” he said.

Because of the contagious nature of the virus, access to the hospital has been restricted, and people are screened at the door before they can enter.

“We are doing our lab draws outside and screen patients outside so we can minimize exposure to patients and staff,” Whitt said. “We are revising and reviewing our policies almost daily to ensure compliance with (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and state guidelines.

“We have also supported (Refugio County Judge) Bobby Blaschke’s declaration of a public health emergency and stay-at-home order.”

Because coronavirus is an overriding concern due to its pandemic status, hospital and clinic staff have adapted to meeting patients’ needs in less traditional ways.

“We have done several telehealth calls (via phone and internet) to help people from having to come in, and that allows them to stay home and still get assessments,” Whitt said.

As of April 6, there had been not positive tests of Refugio County residents regarding coronavirus; however, there had been positive tests for each of the surrounding counties.

Why had Refugio escaped having a positive COVID-19 case during the early days of testing?

“I think some of it is just luck,” Whit said. “Another thing is that our geography is widespread so that everyone is not right on top of each other. One of the biggest things is that our communities have done a great job following guidelines to stay safe and making sure they are following social distancing (remaining 6 feet away from others in public).”

The hospital district has a Facebook page with updates and recommendations and comforting messages during a time of uncertainty and concern.

“We put a lot of positive, reassuring things online,” Whitt said. “People want to know what they can do and are looking for information that can help them. That’s beneficial to all of us.”

Although Refugio had not had a diagnosed COVID-19 case when other areas had, Whitt said he knew that could change in an instant.

“We could get one, and if it happens, people need to remain calm,” he said. “There really isn’t a reason to panic. We are only testing those who meet the criteria, but we are doing things to keep others safe and ourselves safe. Although no one wants to end up with this, for most of us, it’s not the end of the world if it happens.”

The hospital has about 100 full-time employees and another 30 part-time workers to help meet the community’s health needs.

So far, there hasn’t been a major schedule change for those working at the hospital, Whitt said.

One of the results of the COVID-19 pandemic is that people are delaying any non-essential healthcare visits or operations.

“It’s been very similar to the impact we experienced with Hurricane Harvey (in August-September 2017),” Whitt said. “It’s bad financially for us because at this point we are not seeing the patients we normally would. We are still treating the things we normally would, but people aren’t coming in unless they absolutely have to.

“Minor things are being put off, and that’s a good thing because we don’t want people to become unnecessarily exposed.”

If someone is diagnosed with COVID-19 in Refugio County, the severity of the case would determine how and where he or she would be treated.

“If someone has minor symptoms, they would be sent home to self quarantine,” Whitt said. “If they have moderate symptoms, we can admit them to the hospital here for treatment. If someone has severe symptoms, we would have to ship them out. The ventilators here are all for short-term use — essentially they are transport ventilators.

“So if there is a severe case here, we would check with surrounding hospitals to see where there is a bed available and send the patient to the closest one.”

Whitt’s advice is for people to continue staying safe by limiting personal interactions with others, maintaining social distancing and washing hands to help prevent the spread of possible contagions.

“I’m proud of the way the hospital staff and the community are responding,” he said. “They’ve done a good job, and people are heeding guidelines and doing what they should to stay safe.”

Jeff Osborne is the editor of the Refugio County Press.