Mercy Mt. Shasta 'is very well prepared' with ventilators, masks

Skye Kinkade
Brian Shirley, Respiratory Therapist at Mercy Mt. Shasta      operates a ventilator – a piece of equipment that is important for treating those most seriously affected by coronavirus.

While COVID-19 fears grip the nation, administrators, physicians and staff at Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta are working to ensure the community’s medical needs are met.

Critical pieces of equipment needed for the sickest of COVID-19 patients are ventilators. They’re used to send oxygen to the lungs using a tube through a patient’s mouth. Governors of large states, such as New York, have been clamoring for more ventilators.

Mercy Mt. Shasta is “very well prepared” with ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment such as N95 masks for their staff, said the hospital’s president Rodger Page. In addition, Mercy is working on “surge plans” to prepare for a possible influx of COVID-19 patients, although Mercy’s Chief of Staff, Dr. David Holst, pointed out that these preparations are for the worst case scenario and if everyone follows social distancing and other emergency guidelines, the county should be able to weather the COVID-19 storm effectively.

Mercy’s Chief Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Jon Wilton said the terrifying images from hospitals on the East Coast, where there’s a severe shortage of vital equipment, are “not applicable” to northern California’s hospitals.

“There is PPE and medical supplies on hand and available to order,” Wilton said.

The hospital currently has a sufficient quantity of PPE as well as a backup plan and the ability to sterilize N95 masks, said Page. As for those who want to help by making homemade cloth masks or donating unused N95 masks, Page said the hospital will accept them, although they’ll only be used as a back up plan.

“At this time, the hospital has adequate Personal Protective Equipment and the cloth masks are approved for non-direct contact with patient care,” he said. “We are so appreciative of the community’s support and generosity in their efforts to keep all of us safe.”

And while there’s not an “unlimited” amount of ventilators, Page said Mercy Mt. Shasta and other Dignity Health hospitals in their network, including Mercy Redding and St. Elizabeth’s in Red Bluff, were able to add ventilators at each site.

“We have the ability to move equipment from one location to the other” as they’re needed, Page said, adding that employees at each of the sites take stock of critical supplies daily. “We know what we have and what we need, and what orders we have scheduled.”

Both of Siskiyou County’s hospitals, including Fairchild Medical Center in Yreka and Mercy Mt. Shasta are classified as “Critical Access” hospitals, which are allowed to have no more than 25 beds. However, the California State Licensing Board has temporarily waived that limitation, which means that each hospital now has 33 beds available for acute care to assist with a possible surge in patients.

Page pointed out that the hospitals, as well as the county’s medical clinics and Siskiyou County Public Health are working together to mitigate the COVID-19 emergency. Frequent meetings involving all parties have been taking place to prepare in case a local COVID-19 crisis erupts.

Holst said Mercy also has other plans in place, including the ability to isolate COVID-19 patients to other parts of the hospital and a way to “creatively” use areas such as outpatient surgery for patient care. On March 16, Mercy canceled elective surgeries to conserve PPE and other supplies preemptively in the event of a COVID-19 surge.

Other safety measures include the screening of every person that enters the hospital.

“We’re not allowing visitors at this time,” said Joyce Zwanziger, the hospital’s director of ancillary services. “We realize this is inconvenient, but the public has been very gracious and understanding ... it’s not because we don’t want people to feel welcome. We are just working hard to stop the spread of the virus.”

Zwanziger said there are a few exceptions to this rule: Labor and delivery, as well as patients who are receiving end of life care are allowed two healthy adult visitors.

Holst added that it’s important for patients not to panic if they must be treated at the hospital and see medical personnel wearing masks and gloves.

“We are treating every patient as if they are COVID-19 positive to protect them and the staff,” Holst said.