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‘Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures’: hospital reopening requested

SoVaNow.com / March 30, 2020
The chief of South Hill’s VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital provided a statement Friday explaining the steps being taken to prepare for an influx of COVID-19 patients at the hospital’s idled Buena Vista Circle facility.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” said VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital CEO Scott Burnette in a media release.

The hospital’s parent system, VCU Health in Richmond, has applied to the Virginia Department of Health for the expansion of 460 licensed beds in South Hill and at VCU campuses in Richmond. The request includes 130 beds that would be established at the old Community Memorial Healthcenter building on Buena Vista Circle, nestled in a residential neighborhood of South Hill. The old hospital was closed when VCU-CMH moved into the new hospital facility on U.S. Business 1 (North Mecklenburg Avenue) in October 2017.

VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital is preparing for the possibility of a surge of COVID-19 patients in Southside Virginia by retro-fitting the old hospital to be able to once again house patients.

“This is a precautionary step to make sure we have the capacity to handle any and all patients who present at CMH,” said Burnette. “The public will be seeing a lot of activity around the old hospital and we wanted to let people know what our plan is and why.”

“We have seen what has happened elsewhere when hospitals did not have the capacity to care for patients. We are doing everything possible to ensure we have the capacity to handle patients at CMH. That means making sure we have the equipment necessary at the old hospital and that the old hospital is clean and safe to care for patients,” he added.

If the CMH facility on Buena Visit Circle is opened, it will only be for COVID-19 patients and suspected COVID-19 patients. The old Emergency Department at the original CMH will not be open to the public. No direct admissions will be made at the CMH facility on Buena Vista Circle.

All treatment for both hospitals will be initiated at the new hospital at 1755 North Mecklenburg Avenue. COVID-19 patients and those suspected of being COVID-19 patients will be transferred to the CMH facility on Buena Vista Circle from the new hospital.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” Burnette said. “I have asked our staff to do their jobs and prepare for what we hope does not happen. But if we get a surge of patients in the next several weeks, we want to be able to respond appropriately and care for our friends and family.

“We take pride in what we are doing at CMH and this is simply just another hurdle we must clear. It’s a big hurdle, but I have every confidence that our team can do this.”

Some estimates, including from the World Health Organization, have the spread of COVID-19 to reach its peak by mid-April through mid-May. The goal of CMH is to have the old hospital operational within the next three weeks in response to this projected surge in patients needing medical care.

CMH has already eliminated elective surgeries and office visits to help keep the census for inpatients as low as possible to save rooms for those who have emergent issues. VCU Health in Richmond is doing the same things, as are most hospitals around the Commonwealth.

According to Burnette, CMH has the unique capability with a second hospital available to use for the surge. Patients who may been seen at CMH and the old hospital may be coming from a wider geographic area than normal.

According to Burnette, CMH has already procured hospital beds and other necessary equipment to reopen the old hospital. He said Mecklenburg County Public Schools have offered to help get the building ready by sending members of their custodial services team to the hospital on Buena Vista Circle.

“We have kept many things operational at the old hospital because we were working on what use the old hospital would be in the future,” Burnette said. “That seems like a very wise decision now. Our heating and air conditioning has been kept on at the old building at a maintenance level to make sure the building remained habitable. We have already made great strides in getting the hospital up and running and with the help of our staff and others throughout our communities, we will be ready.

“The first CMH facility treated all manner of highly infectious patients successfully for more than 60 years. The failure to provide for the possibility of a large surge of infectious patients in an adequately controlled, medically appropriate facility could create a greater risk to the community when overtaxed resources result in patients being denied care or left to care for themselves as has occurred in New York City.

“We are making every preparation to ensure that scenario does not occur in this region and to protect the staff and community to the best of our ability.”

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