WellSpan Health today announced plans to double the number of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds at its acute care hospitals, in anticipation of a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 patient cases in the coming weeks.
The regional health system held an online news briefing to discuss ongoing efforts to respond to the new coronavirus pandemic, as well as the organization’s preparations for an expected rise in COVID-19 patients needing hospital care.
"WellSpan is leading in these challenging times, taking swift and proactive action to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community and responding to the needs of our patients and neighbors," said Roxanna L. Gapstur, Ph.D., R.N., president and CEO of WellSpan Health.
"We were the first to offer a true network of testing sites across our region. This allowed us to collect samples and identify those at risk of infection early," Gapstur added. "Now, we’re planning to double our critical care capacity in preparation for the expected rise in patients who may need care in our hospitals."
A focus on early testing
WellSpan Health began testing patients in mid-March for COVID-19, developing a network of about a dozen open-air sites across five counties. The health system has conducted more than 8,000 tests, with approximately 400 testing positive. The overwhelming majority of those patients are recovering at home, and a small percentage are being treated at WellSpan hospitals.
"Our early strategy to do widespread testing on those who were symptomatic and at risk for COVID-19 has enabled us to slow the spread, as those 8,000 individuals were made aware of their risk and were told to self-isolate," said Thomas McGann, M.D., executive vice president for clinical practice at WellSpan Health.
Harnessing the power of technology
The health system has also sharply increased its availability of alternative care options that do not require patients to visit a care site in-person. These include WellSpan Online Urgent Care, as well as video visits, phone visits and e-visits conducted by WellSpan providers.
In the last two weeks of March, WellSpan physicians and advanced practice clinicians conducted more than 4,000 video visits and more than 9,000 telephone visits. WellSpan is now conducting 40 percent of its total medical practice visits through these new care alternatives.
"We work every day to reimagine healthcare, and COVID-19 is pushing that innovation to the forefront," McGann said.
Increasing hospital capacity
As COVID-19 continues to spread across southcentral Pennsylvania, WellSpan is planning to increase its capacity to handle an anticipated sharp rise in patients needing hospital care.
"We are preparing thoughtfully for what we know is coming, and the strain it will place on our hospitals," said John Porter, executive vice president and COO at WellSpan Health.
WellSpan plans to double its critical care capacity at its hospitals, with an estimated 160 additional ICU beds planned. The health system will use operating rooms and recovery bay areas currently not in use due to the organization’s decision to postpone non-urgent procedures and surgeries.
In addition, WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation Hospital will temporarily suspend its services and will shift its focus to providing acute care for non-COVID-19 patients. This will allow more capacity at WellSpan York Hospital for COVID-19 patient care.
The health system is also working collaboratively with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency on the potential for opening additional care locations in the region.
WellSpan currently has adequate supplies and equipment and is actively working with the state and federal governments, as well as vendors, local businesses and community partners to secure additional supplies – including personal protective equipment, scrubs, masks and ventilators.
Porter added that the hospitals are redeploying staff to hospitals with the greatest needs and are working to recruit additional support. “We are tapping into the strength of our current and retired workforce, as well as our neighbors in the community, to reinforce our critical care teams at our hospitals,” he said.
"As central Pennsylvania’s trusted healthcare partner, we are taking bold, coordinated action to prepare for this anticipated rise in patients requiring acute hospital care," Porter said.
For the latest WellSpan information related to COVID-19, visit WellSpan.org/Coronavirus.
About WellSpan Health
WellSpan Health is an integrated health system that serves the communities of central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland. The organization is comprised of more than 1,600 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a regional behavioral health organization, a home care organization, eight respected hospitals, approximately 20,000 employees, and more than 200 patient care locations. WellSpan is a charitable, mission-driven organization, committed to exceptional care for all, lifelong wellness and healthy communities.