Recommendations have changed. Beginning Monday, December 21st, employees in all departments must wear a level 3 surgical mask instead of a cloth mask while at work.
Staff in clinical areas have already been wearing surgical masks, but this change will apply to non-clinical areas and office spaces. Because we cannot always guarantee our staff can safely distance themselves at least 6 feet at all times from co-workers, surgical masks will be required while on campus at any ARHS facility, regardless of your role.
A surgical mask protects the user from larger droplets from others and reduces the transfer of respiratory secretions from the user. Based on guidance from the CDC, AppHealthcare and Toe River Health departments, we know that surgical masks have proven to provide better protection for the user and those they encounter.
Employees may continue to wear fabric masks when reporting to work. However, all employees should obtain a hospital-approved surgical mask as soon as they reach their work area/department.
What is a level 3 surgical mask?
A surgical mask is a loose-fitting disposable mask that protects the wearer’s nose and mouth from contact droplets, splashes and sprays that may contain germs. A surgical mask also filters large particles in the air and may protect others by reducing exposure to the saliva and respiratory secretions of the mask wearer.
How to request level 3 surgical masks for your department/staff?
Materials Management currently stocks level 3 masks in all inpatient and outpatient clinical areas and have sent supplies to non-clinical areas. If you need masks in your department, please contact Materials Management at 828-262-4159.
How long can I wear a level 3 surgical mask?
Based on our current supply of masks, we recommend that employees in use their level 3 surgical mask for multiple days as long as it remains clean. Employees should replace masks if they become visibly soiled and/or when the integrity of the mask has been torn, degraded or compromised.
May I purchase level 3 masks online?
ARHS cannot certify that masks purchased online are actually level 3 masks. Employees must utilize surgical masks obtained from Materials Management only.
Do I need to wear eye protection as well?
Anyone involved in direct patient care must wear appropriate PPE, including eye protection.
Staff interacting with patients/visitors from behind a plexiglass barrier are not required to wear eye protection.
Staff interacting with patients/visitors without a plexiglass barrier or through a slide window must wear eye protection.
Fact Sheet: Eye protection for COVID-19
Email Mike Rawls (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Kathy Miller (email@example.com) in Materials Management or call 828-262-4159.
As COVID cases continue to stretch our staff and resources, we wanted to provide an update regarding our current COVID response plans.
ARHS anticipates the following the next few months.
- Resurgence of COVID cases in November and December
- Increasing staff fatigue
- Increasing demand for Medical/Surgical patients with complex care needs
- Critical workforce shortages
- Limited transfer availability to tertiary hospitals due to statewide staffing/bed capacity challenges
We continue to work diligently to alleviate the strain and obstacles you face daily. We recognize that when we reduced our services at the beginning of the pandemic, our patients didn’t have the normal access to care and in some cases experienced higher acuity when they did return. Therefore, we are committed to continue our normal operations and navigate the COVID needs. To try to mitigate some of the strain this commitment puts on our staffing and bed capacity, we plan to segment our COVID operations from normal operations.
ARHS Action / Staffing Plan:
To ensure adequate staffing and bed availability for all our patients, we are striving to establish dedicated hospital space and contract staffing to serve the COVID needs. These moves will provide some relief for from COVID demands and allow our clinical staff to resume normal operations.
If you are unable to see the timeline image below, scroll down for a text only version.
We will also continue to optimize Cannon’s bed capacity to meet all patient medical needs within the High Country. If ARHS surges beyond 21 COVID patients, alternative plans may include engaging Samaritan’s Purse to establish and staff an additional COVID unit on our campus.
Our ARHS Pharmacy team has submitted a request for COVID vaccines for all staff, but we have not been notified regarding the quantity we will receive. Priority will be given to those involved in direct patient care and we anticipate employees will be able to make an informed decision about whether to take the vaccine.
We ask that you assist in helping us monitor and conserve PPE when possible. Please continue to be vigilant in not touching your mask or face, practicing good hand hygiene, and social distancing during breaks and meals.
Thanks to each of you for your continued contribution to this extraordinary team effort.
Chief Operating Officer
Timeline: Text Only
Now: Cohort COVID Patients to SSU
Oct. 23: Move Pain Center
Week of Nov. 2: Move Sleep Center
Nov. 2: Dedicated COVID Contract Labor Team arrives
Week of Nov. 2: Convert 3 East to COVID Unit
Nov. 9: Re-open 3 South for Ortho and Med/Surg Overflow
Nov. 9: Expand COVID patients to 3 East, if needed
Nov. 9: Return OB Overflow/Cal I rooms for Nov/Dec baby boom
Early Nov: Implement tele-IPG and tele-ICU provider services
All ARHS Employees and Medical Staff,
It has been a very busy week in our health system. As COVID cases have increased in our communities, our health system has also experienced higher volumes in our ambulatory and ED locations. As a result we are almost at capacity in our second COVID unit (3 East) at WMC and are making preparations on 3 South to open a 3rd unit if needed. Not only are we seeing a surge in COVID, we are seeing a surge in medical patients that need more intensive care than we have experienced in previous months.
We are working diligently to alleviate the strain from the surges, as well as any and all obstacles for you to care for our patients safely and effectively. We have daily calls to stay on top of COVID rates in our community and manage:
- Bed Capacity
- Available Staffing
- Testing & PPE Utilization
This is what we do best as a health system- take care of our patients when needs are the greatest! We recognize success in caring for patients during this surge cannot be achieved by merely a few. It will take commitment from the entire team to meet these needs.
We certainly understand the apprehension with regards to caring for or entering designated COVID areas. However, we have made your safety our priority in providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to care for these patients. We expect all staff to commit to using their PPE and taking care of our COVID patients when your department is involved in their care. When entering a COVID area, staff must wear a mask and eye protection. Unless you are directly entering a COVID patient’s room, no additional steps should be taken regarding PPE.
Be vigilant in not touching your mask or face, hand hygiene, and social distancing during breaks and meals.
To ensure constant readiness, ARHS has accepted state resources to establish a mobile unit outside the ED ambulance area at WMC. This unit is a preventive step that will allow us to cohort COVID patients within the ED if our volumes continue to rise and ensure we can continue to provide ED services to non-COVID patients in a safe environment. If you see this unit at WMC, please know it is in anticipation of this need and will not be utilized unless we need the additional space.
Thanks to each of you for your continued contribution to this extraordinary team effort.
Amy Crabbe, Chief Operating Officer
Watauga Medical Center has experienced a sustained increase in COVID inpatients during the last week. Leading indicators of COVID positive cases in our community tell us we should expect to see more positive patients requiring hospitalization in the coming weeks. To prepare for this patient surge, we will be opening a second COVID unit should our bed needs exceed SSU capacity.
We have opened a COVID unit on 3 East to provide an additional 6 bed COVID unit, bringing our overall isolation/negative pressure bed capacity to at least 12 beds. This unit is located in the previous Wound Care space on the 3rd floor (the hallway between Pain Clinic and OB).
This will be a closed unit with no pass through permitted. Since we now have patients in this COVID space, for employee safety all access to that hallway is strictly prohibited.
No staff should attempt to enter 3 East COVID unit or the OB overflow area unless they providing direct patient care in that area. If your department needs to provide nourishments, supplies or equipment to this CLOSED hallway, please do not enter this space and contact nursing personnel assigned to 3 East at extension #62405 to coordinate your services to these patients.
If you have questions or concerns about your route around this new unit, please speak with your supervisor.