W hile UTMB Health Angleton Danbury has not had a surge or overflow of COVID-19 patients, its new triage tents are ready if either happens.

Staff members proactively erected two large triage tents in the parking lot outside of the hospital entrance. Beginning Friday, everybody — staff and patients — was directed to go through the first tent before entering the hospital. Visitors are not allowed during this time.

“We want to be ahead of it; we don’t want to chase COVID-19,” said Beth Reimschissel, administrator and associate chief nursing officer for the hospital. “This is our way of being proactive and having something that we know we’re prepared for high volumes and surge of patients.”

Jason Garner, manager of the emergency department, said that’s the most important part.

“That’s the big thing — being as prepared as possible,” he said.

UTMB aims to limit exposure and prevent the spread of coronavirus as much as possible by triaging patients before they’re even allowed into the hospital, Reimschissel said.

“This is a 24/7 rotation through this tent,” she said. “There’s no longer entering the hospital the normal way — they’ll all come through the tent.”

Every UTMB emergency room is setting up similar tents, Senior Communication Specialist Tonya Visor said.

Hospital employees are looking at patients in three phases, Reimschissel said. The first is someone who has no symptoms, including the “worried well,” who think they need to be screened; the second is someone who has symptoms and may need a screening and then to be sent home to quarantine; and the third phase is a patient who requires hospital treatment, who will go inside right away, she said.

Green and red arrows will help direct the flow of traffic for people who need to enter the hospital building. Green arrows represent a “cold zone” for patients or employees who are safe to enter and who have not been exposed to the virus and direct people to the front doors. Red arrows represent a “hot zone” for those who have symptoms and direct them straight into the emergency department through a separate entrance. This way, there’s no exposure to the rest of the hospital, Reimschissel said.

When it becomes necessary, the second tent can be used to treat patients who have mild respiratory symptoms but not a critical need for hospitalization, Reimschissel said.

“We have it up and ready,” she said of the second tent. “We did not want to bring it later on and be behind the curve.”

Patients are urged to call the nurse triage line at 800-917-8906 ahead of time to see whether they need to visit the hospital and risk exposure, Reimschissel said. UTMB continues to do televisits, and the hospital is handling more than 2,000 each day, she said.

Friday morning was “ground zero” for this new plan, so it will likely change and improve based on feedback from hospital staff members, Visor and Reimschissel said.

If hospital staff believes a patient needs to come in, they have a third tent set up as a respiratory clinic, where patients will be seen by appointment only so there won’t be a wait time, Reimschissel said.

“We need to act tomorrow as if we would three weeks from now, when a surge happens and more patients come,” Reimschissel said.

Personal protective equipment, including reusable face shields, is provided for staff members who are also screened before they start work, Reimschissel said.

There is a strict regimen for sanitizing the triage tents — everything is wipeable and is cleaned “pretty rigorously, like we do at the hospital,” she said.

The hospital has been seeing a steady flow of about 60 patients each day, but if the volume increases, there are contingency plans to move screenings further into the parking lot, Reimschissel said. In the event of an inpatient surge, a surge capacity plan would use the 24 beds in the surgical center, she said. In the event the hospital must double-up patients, there is a plan in place to safely do so, she said.

“We hope we never get there,” Reimschissel said. “But we have the capability.”

Corinna Richardson is the features writer for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0150.

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Thanks for preparing in advance to care for our community needs during this pandemic. I wish our LJ hospital was as proactive.

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