Truman Medical Centers, the area’s safety net hospital, is getting an infusion of money from Jackson County as it and other area hospitals get ready for an expected surge of coronavirus cases in the coming weeks.
The County Legislature on Monday approved $4.51 million for the COVID-19 crisis, the first of what are expected to be several such actions. County Administrator Troy Schulte said the county expects to be reimbursed by the federal government. He said another $2 million measure to buy personal protective equipment is likely to come up next week.
Of the amount approved Monday, $200,000 is for the county medical examiner’s office. The rest is for TMC, which has a Lakewood campus at Lee’s Summit Road and Gregory Boulevard and a larger facility on Hospital Hill.
Charlie Shields, the hospital’s president and CEO, said there are several models on when and how hard COVID-19 peaks but that it looks as if “the surge hits probably middle to late April and continues through the first part of May at capacity levels that will be very challenging for hospitals in Missouri.”
He said social distancing and stay-at-home orders should help to lessen the impact.
“We have to be ready for the surge that is anticipated,” he told county legislators.
The money approved Monday is for testing, staffing, equipment – “whatever their needs are,” Schulte said.
Some legislators said they’re hearing that other public health providers also have expressed concerns about getting help, and Shields stressed that the area’s agencies work closely together and share well. The county, as officials described it, will to some extent use TMC as the means to push resources out into the community.
Shields said the hospital has switched vendors for testing and that tests are being turned around more quickly now. TMC is also ramping up its own lab but struggling with a shortage of testing ingredients. It’s also short on masks and sanitizing wipes, and is scrambling to find them wherever it can.
He also underlined the severity of the situation.
“A lot of people somehow don’t think this is real. I want to point out it’s very real.” he said. “All you have to do is step inside a hospital and see it.”
Until a vaccine is developed, tested and rolled out – a year or more off, experts say – Shields said three main things are needed:
• Added medical capacity.
• Social distancing.
• Greatly expanded testing, which means the source of a person’s contamination can be traced, which in turn means targeted quarantines instead of the blanket orders in place now.
“I think that is how we make it through this,” he said, “but I think it’s going to be a journey getting there.”
The hospital has taken steps to protect patients, staff and others. All staff are wearing masks.
“We have dramatically limited visitors coming into the hospital,” he said. Basically those allowed in are for moms giving birth and in end-of-life situations, he said.
The Lakewood hospital, with 100 beds, has 11 isolation units. At Hospital Hill, with 250 beds, there are 35 isolation units and Shields said they think they can add another eight.
The crisis hits a hospital such as Truman especially hard. It’s a safety net hospital – a quarter of its patients have no health insurance and Shields said that will rise – already operating on thin margins and with modest financial reserves. Now it’s cut elective surgery and other procedures, leading to what Shields called a “dramatic” drop in revenue.
Officials are still sorting through the specifics of the new federal CARES Act, approved last week to help individuals and businesses, but hospitals are hoping much of that money comes their way. Right now, Shields said, the hospital is closely tracking every dollar spent.
“To the extent that we can get reimbursed by the federal government, we absolutely will,” he said.