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COVID Fears Still Impacting Local Hospital Admissions: Capital Regional Medical Center

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Tom Flanigan
The main entrance to Capital Regional Medical Center's emergency unit.

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Florida is reaching new heights. But Tallahassee's two hospitals insist they can handle a local increase in those case, in addition to regular patients. In the first of two stories on the topic, weke with the Facility Medical Director at Capital Regional Medical Center.
When the pandemic first emerged early this year, some called it a "bump in the road" for the health care community. Capital Regional's Dr. Chris Tidwell took
issue with that description.

"You mentioned a 'bump in the road;' this has been a crater. I don't have anything to draw upon from my previous 19 years of experience in clinical or administrative practice. This for me and a lot of us has been a brave new world," Tidwell acknowledged.

Hospitals, including the two in Tallahassee, braced for possible tidal waves of COVID-19 patients. At the same time, admissions for things not connected to the virus dropped like a rock. Bloomberg reported between mid-March and mid-May, hospital visits involving heart attacks declined 23 percent nationwide. Stroke cases fell by 20 percent and visits for diabetes issues were off by 10 percent. Dr. Tidwell said his hospital saw the same thing.

"Our volumes are trending up, but if you asked me two or three or four weeks ago, 'Chris, what's going on with the E.R.' I would say our volumes are way down. Our friends and neighbors and family members are waiting too long to come to the E.R. to seek care."

Tidwell believed that increasing patient confidence is the result of the hospital's protective protocols.

"I think what we did was what most folks did. We wanted to be cautious and careful and sometimes when you're scared, you don't do anything. We've had a benefit now of two or three months of a public health response. We're getting a better idea of what the virus is and isn't and how to respond to it."

Much of that response is simply reassuring people they can come to the emergency room and other hospital facilities without fear of contracting the coronavirus from those patients.

"We've strong access control, so when somebody comes to the E.R., they're screened for COVID symptoms. And once that happens, then if someone's at risk, they're sent to a particular care path."

Tidwell explained that care path is kept in total isolation from the rest of the hospital's operation. But now the question is again, what happens if the present increase in the daily COVID-19 case count impacts the Capital region and treating those people again becomes the priority? Capital Regional's Tidwell is optimistic.

"If you asked me, 'Dr. Tidwell, are you as worried or concerned as you were 10 weeks ago?' the answer is 'No.' We're getting a better idea, not just in Tallahassee and at Capital, but my friends and colleagues across the country are getting a better idea of what this thing is and most importantly what this thing isn't. And with these pillars, these efforts that we're doing not only at Capital, but across the country at different hospitals, we're going to figure it out. We've had some tough and hard days, but I'm confident we're going to have better tomorrows."

We'll check out the situation at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in our next report.