Like An Episode Of M*A*S*H: Hospitals Pitch Triage Tents, Prepare For Surge

As Americans hold their collective breath awaiting a potential 'breaking point' where hospitals and local clinics begin getting overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients — precisely what happened in China, Iran and especially ongoing in Italy — major urban hospitals across the country have already begun cancelling and postponing all elective surgeries in order to free up resources

“We are preparing for the long run and looking at this as a challenge that will be one of the biggest national challenges most of us have seen,” said Dr. Jonathan Lewin, CEO of Emory Healthcare - which runs 10 hospitals and many clinics across metro Atlanta.

This includes postponement of other procedures as well, such as colonoscopies, also in order to free up staff for a potential deluge of coronavirus-related cases. Emergency screening tents are going up at local hospitals, and doctors are reportedly being called out of retirement or out of teaching positions at universities to ensure staffing needs.

Image via AP

As local Atlanta media reports further, other major health networks are dramatically shifting their priorities and rearranging their operations:

Piedmont Healthcare on Monday announced it is also cancelling elective procedures to conserve resources and limit potential exposure for staff and patients. Kaiser Permanente, which operates 25 medical clinics across metro Atlanta and one in Athens, has temporarily shuttered nearly half of its clinics to consolidate operations and allow it to adequately isolate patients, when needed.

This has included hospitals in Georgia and some other metropolitan areas staff setting up emergency tents outside the campus facilities. And further putting in place stricter and more efficient quarantine procedures for suspected cases.

The Associated Press reported this week that hospitals across the globe and in the US are increasingly "testing patients in circus-like triage tents, having them wait in their cars or creating separate entrances."

Visitors to current patients have further been greatly restricted or banned altogether in most hospitals in large cities. This also as nurses and doctors take on long hours and extra shifts. 

There are other reports of supplies running short, as especially the numbers of ventilators nationwide is a focus of top CDC and White House officials. 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports for example

Phoebe Putney Health System may be the canary in the coal mine. Its flagship hospital in Albany, a city anchoring southwest Georgia, has exploded with possible COVID-19 patients in the last five days.

The hospital now houses 65 patients who’ve either been diagnosed with the disease or are waiting for tests to confirm the diagnosis. That’s just the inpatients; 115 more with less severe symptoms are at home, waiting for test results. The hospital released the numbers along with a plea to speed up testing. Phoebe Putney’s other hospitals have more cases.

The Atlanta area hospitals are likely a sign of things to come in other urban areas across the states. 

One New York physician, Dr. Christopher M. Tedeschi, a longtime emergency physician and assistant professor at the Columbia University Medical Center told The New York Times the situation is looking dire in New York City, which is expected to see confirmed cases hit 1000 at least by week's end, and with 644 cases in the city as of Tuesday.

“We are not prepared to deal with a rapid and severe surge of patients — we’re just not,” Dr. Tedeschi said. “We’re sort of planning for what’s going on right now, and we’re trying to make up for lost time, but I’m not sure we’re planning for a month from now, or even two weeks from now.”