Stephens Memorial Hospital has reported its first positive coronavirus case. Photo courtesy Brewster Burns

NORWAY — On Tuesday the Maine Center for Disease Control announced that the number of COVID-19 cases in the state has reached 118, with six in Oxford county. Of those cases, one tested positive at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway over the weekend.

SMH spokesperson Abbie Graiver said on Tuesday afternoon that one person had tested positive but that the hospital did not have any positive COVID-19 inpatients currently receiving care. As of Sunday the hospital had conducted a total of 80 swab tests for the virus, according to Chief Medical Officer Gregory Hardy, MD. Graiver was unable to update that number or confirm if it had diagnosed any additional positive cases, referring inquiries to the CDC.

Fair Share Co-op of Norway announced Saturday on its Facebook page that one person who had been in the store multiple times over a period of days has tested positive. The shop, which sells locally produced foods, will be closed until further notice.

Messages on Facebook from customers and fans of the co-op have been positive and appreciative of the information. Store management posted they have been told the person is doing well and recuperating at home. So far, the first case seen in Oxford Hills seems to be one that will end with recovery.

In the aftermath of its first positive case Stephens Memorial Hospital is girding itself for the potential fall-out of community transmission, according to Hardy. During an interview on Sunday he and Western Maine Health President Andrea Patstone outlined the measures SMH has taken to handle potential COVID-19 cases.

“SMH has set up two separate avenues for people to receive their medical care,” said Hardy. “There is a care team dedicated specifically to COVID-19 including the administering of tests, and one that will continue to focus on regular patient care.”

“We are segregating routine patient care from those seeking treatment for COVID-19,” explained Patstone. “SMH has suspended non-essential and elective procedures but we still have patients who need to be seen. We’ve established the Medd Medical Building for that purpose.

“For those who have unrelated ailments or need a post-operation check-up, or if children need immunizations, they can be seen there. But they need to call their regular doctor’s office to make arrangements.”

Patstone emphasizes that this process is designed to accommodate Western Maine Health patients by appointment only. Care at the Medd building is not set up for walk-ins.

“If someone is not already an established patient and they are in need of emergent care, the emergency department at SMH will be ready to receive and care for them,” she said.

The hospital will utilize this two-spear policy for the foreseeable future but is prepared to change course as conditions warrant.

SMH currently has five rooms equipped with negative pressure for COVID-19 patients who may experience respiratory distress and require additional procedures. The hospital, which has two inpatient wings, is in the process of setting up rooms to allow for multiple COVID-19 patients. Hardy said SMH has been given waivers to allow them to admit more patients past their 25-bed capacity if it becomes necessary. But while they are preparation for any possible scenario he acknowledges that they are operating in a fluid situation and a plan for today may be different by tomorrow.

As with government leaders and health officials across the country, Hardy warns that it is imperative to follow the guidelines set by the CDC.

“Our top priority through this is to make sure we are able to provide care for our individual patients, their families and the Oxford Hills community,” Hardy said. “Some people, particularly younger, healthy people, are not heeding the call for social distancing.

“And we are receiving new test guidelines that will affect the care those young people can expect. Those over the age of 60 – especially if they are experiencing symptoms of the virus, and people who are living with other illnesses or underlying health conditions are the priority to test at this point.”

Hardy said that anyone who is not in one of these two health categories should take the following steps if they believe they have been exposed to or contracted the virus.

“If someone has any question about the coronavirus, they should call their primary care physician for guidance,” said Hardy. “And they should self-quarantine at home unless their doctor directs them to go receive medical care elsewhere.”

Patstone acknowledges that while administrators hope for the best, its ability to contain spread of the coronavirus relies on the general public heeding calls for social-distancing to make it possible for healthcare providers to not be overwhelmed by rapid spread. She said that the situation needs to be taken seriously in order to be effectively managed.

“We have seen direct evidence and been given insight to the disasters that some countries, and states, have experienced,” she said. “Some were surprised and ill prepared to take immediate measures. Some did not initially take safety measures seriously. There can be no doubt that coronavirus has had devastating results in some areas. Everyone needs to do their part.”

Stephens Memorial Hospital initiated Incident Command in response to the pandemic. The Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) team meets twice a day and as necessary to triage critical needs and assign tasks to respond to the situation.

“We have a strong team at Western Maine Health. Training and preparations for situations like this have been ongoing for many years. Our team is rising to the occasion, and are committed to being our best when we are needed the most,” said Patstone.

Along with other Maine hospitals, SMH has placed restrictions on visitors that allow only those involving end-of-life cases, pediatric care, and interpreters/guardians accompanying patients.

 

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