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Sentara Obici assesses capacity

Like other hospitals around the country, Sentara Obici Hospital is looking to ramp up its resources to deal with potential cases of COVID-19 coming through the facility.

To that end, it has been taking measures to conserve resources and leverage partnerships and donations to fill in gaps while planning for worst-case scenarios that would require the hospital to expand its capacity.

“Luckily we’re on the first wave, so we have the ability to watch and learn, unfortunately, by watching some of the other regions,” said Sentara Obici president Coleen Santa Ana. “And because everybody’s undergoing the same crisis, everyone is absolutely under-resourced for this.”

The hospital, like others, has been trying to conserve its supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE. Santa Ana said the hospital had already been reducing elective surgeries, and with Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order Wednesday ordering hospitals in Virginia to stop those procedures, she said the hospital has freed up many of its 176 beds, reducing possible exposure to the virus while preserving its PPE supply.

“Unless there’s a big shipment — (President) Trump talks about that, and we’re praying and crossing our fingers — we’re all competing for resources,” Santa Ana said. “Everyone’s trying to do their best with PPE, conservation of PPE, and we’re all working on expansion plans.

“I think every hospital you’ll ever call, we’re all trying to figure out, beyond our own bed capacity, how do we fulfill the community need. And that’s very hard to predict what that is, but we want to be at the ready, playing through as many different scenarios as possible.”

She said “we are evaluating every single space that could potentially be used for patient care.”

The hospital has been accepting community donations, and it has received N95 masks, gloves and various personal protective equipment.

“We need everything possible,” Santa Ana said.

Virginia saw its first positive COVID-19 case March 7, and as of 9 a.m. Friday, there have been 604 reported positive cases to the Virginia Department of Health, and 14 people have died.

The Western Tidewater Health District has reported four positive COVID-19 cases — two in Isle of Wight County and one each in Suffolk and Southampton County.

“We have a bunch of senior clinical leaders and executives who are meeting seven days a week in our system incident command center in Virginia Beach,” said Dale Gauding, senior communications advisor for Sentara Healthcare, “and they’re modeling how our system is going to be able to respond to a surge.”

Sentara began drive-through COVID-19 testing at three of its Hampton Roads-area hospitals earlier this month, and it also established a COVID-19 call center. It has also been limiting visitors to the hospital.

While Sentara Obici has testing capability, Santa Ana and hospital officials urge people who believe they need testing to use the drive-through testing sites. Currently, the closest one to Suffolk is at Military Circle in Norfolk, and testing sites will not be available on the weekends. They also urge people to self-assess before taking either of those measures.

Gauding said Sentara Laboratories is setting up a large-scale testing technology that should be ready in early April.

“By the first two weeks in April, we’ll be able to take some fairly substantial volume of testing at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital’s consolidated laboratory,” Gauding said.

Because of the increase in testing, Sentara is advising those getting tested that it could take up to 10 days to get results. He said even with the delay in getting a result, for those who get tested, it is a public service for them to isolate themselves and stay safe, and keep others safe also.

As Sentara Obici prepares for a possible coronavirus outbreak in the region, construction continues on the expansion of its emergency department, as Santa Ana said it does not impact its current critical space at this time.

“Now more than ever,” Santa Ana said, “we need that expansion.”