Training tents go up at HCH

  • A training tent has been set up outside Highlands Cashiers Hospital. The tent is being used for staff exercises related to treating potential COVID-19 patients.
    A training tent has been set up outside Highlands Cashiers Hospital. The tent is being used for staff exercises related to treating potential COVID-19 patients.

Visitors to Highlands Cashiers Hospital may notice some additional temporary facilities in place near the emergency department entrance.

On Thursday, a large tent was erected in the parking area in front of the hospital. The tent is being used as a training area for hospital staff and is available should a surge of patients with COVID-19 symptoms come to the facility seeking treatment.

“It’s important to note that to this point we have had zero COVID-19 patients admitted to our hospital and we currently have zero persons under investigation at our hospital,” Highlands Cashiers Hospital CEO Tom Neal said. “We had one patient test positive at our facility (March 23), but that patient was immediately transferred to Mission Hospital in Asheville for treatment.”

The tents are part of Mission Health’s standard emergency planning protocols and are only a precaution at this time. In coming days, Mission will conduct training exercises and drills in the tents, allowing caregivers to become comfortable in the environment should the tents need to become operational.

“All Mission Health facilities have well-established protocols in place to care for patients with infectious diseases, and our emergency planning efforts related to COVID-19 began weeks ago,” President of the North Carolina Division of HCA Healthcare, Greg Lowe said in a written statement. “While Mission Health has the bed capacity, staffing, supplies and equipment we need at this time, we continue to plan by accessing the resources, support and best practices across HCA Healthcare to help ensure we remain able to meet the needs of the communities we serve as this situation continues to evolve.”

Neal noted that Highlands Cashiers Hospital does not have an intensive care unit and there are no plans at this time to create such a unit. Any patient who tests positive for COVID-19 and needs additional treatment will be transferred to Mission Hospital.

Highlands Cashiers Hospital has a plan in place if a swell of COVID-19 cases is detected locally, but that plan has not been needed thus far.

“Our census is running about 12 patients daily, so we have capacity to handle that number and more if the need arises,” Neal said. “In our surge plan we have protocols in place to treat as many as 32 patients locally. We have not experienced any capacity issues as of yet and we want people to know that the hospital is well equipped and staffed to meet the community’s needs, even during a difficult time.”


New mask policy

Mission Health leaders put a new mask policy in place as of April 2.

All staff and providers in all patient care areas will now wear masks, expanding their use beyond suspected or positive COVID-19 cases. Masks are optional only for staff in non-patient care areas who can consistently maintain social distancing of at least six feet aside from brief interactions with colleagues. 

“Our top priority is protecting our patients, clinicians, nurses, and colleagues so we can best serve our communities through the duration of this pandemic,” Chief Medical Officer for Mission Health/HCA North Carolina Division, William Hathaway said in a written statement. “These new guidelines apply to all areas of our patient care facilities, not just those where suspected COVID or COVID-positive patients are being treated.”

Mission Health administrators are monitoring the use of personal protective equipment in order to anticipate future demand and ensure that all Mission Health facilities are adequately stocked with PPE supplies.


Pandemic pay

Mission Health has experienced a decrease in surgery and outpatient volume as a result of COVID-19 over the past several weeks, leading to a reduction of hours for many hospital staff members. 

In response, Mission Health’s parent company HCA Healthcare implemented a new “pandemic pay continuation” policy on April 3 to help protect the financial security of front-line caregivers at all facilities. It applies to all HCA Healthcare employees, including those at all Mission Health Hospitals.

Staff members who have seen a reduction in hours due to the reduced number of surgeries or outpatient procedures may be redeployed to another area of their facility. Those who cannot be redeployed will receive 70 percent of base pay for up to seven weeks.

For staff members working in patient care facilities who are quarantined per CDC guidelines, Mission Health will pay 100 percent of base pay for scheduled hours regardless of where the exposure took place.

Other programs already in place include options for child or elder care, free Doctors on Demand telemedicine to assist staff members who cannot get in to see their regular provider, scrub laundering service, HCA Hope Fund grants for colleagues with financial needs, and emotional support and counseling services.