Witham Health Services: Resuming Services in a “New Normal”
The residents of Boone County already know of Witham Health Services extraordinary menu of patient services, advanced treatment options, leading-edge technology and compassionate care delivered by its exceptional medical professionals. What some may not know is that Witham Health Services was ahead of the pack at the beginning of the pandemic surge and was the first in its industry—in Indiana—to offer free COVID-19 drive-through screenings.
We spoke with Dr. Raymond Ingham, president/CEO at Witham Health Services, to learn more about what Witham’s team of extraordinary physicians, nurses and staff did to push through the early stages of the pandemic and how it has methodically begun reopening its services in accordance with Gov. Holcomb’s recommendations for reopening the state.
Staging Amidst a Pandemic
“When we saw it [COVID-19] on the horizon, our first worry was trying to identify as many [responses] as we could,” Dr. Ingham shared. “At the same time, we were closing our physician’s offices, we closed our sports medicine program and we closed our surgical procedures. So, I had this group of folks that wouldn’t be getting the hours that they needed, and it made a lot of sense to me to open up the [COVID-19] screening areas and train [the medical staff] on how to do it efficiently.”
The drive-through COVID-19 screening areas were set up in the ambulance bays at Witham’s Lebanon and Anson locations to avoid overwhelming the respective ERs. In his words, the success of the screening staging was a result of “a little bit of brilliance and a whole lot of luck.”
When asked how many people tested positive—from day one of the screenings to the time of this article’s publication—Dr. Ingham reported, “We have over 600 [people] test positive. And that’s about 20% of the total number of screenings.”
Witham’s Status on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
At the time of publication, Dr. Ingham shared that Witham Health Services has approximately 96 hours—on average—of PPE.
“That’s across the board,” Dr. Ingham added. “We are very low on isolation gowns—we’ve got 300 of those, and we go through about 300 a day. It’s not only the supply that is an issue, the material that is used is gone. So, even if there was a workforce to put [the isolation gowns] together, the material is not available. But we have done some pretty innovative things and have gone to nondisposable surgical gowns. We have a team that works on those every day to find out who has them/who doesn’t and how can we get them. The only downside to that is, of course, with supply and demand, the costs have gone through the roof.”
A testament to the level of caring and compassion exhibited by Boone County residents, businesses and other medical professionals, Dr. Ingham shared that as many as 500 cloth masks have been donated to Witham Health Services.
“Just about when I get to my wit’s end, the good Lord finds something for me,” Dr. Ingham expressed. “We were kind of struggling with opening some of our services because we want everybody to be masked. And if they don’t have a mask, we want to provide one.”
Rubbing Dirt on It Isn’t the Answer—Call Your Doctor
There have been countless reports of people avoiding going to the ER for legitimate emergencies, and Dr. Ingham went on record as saying, “First and foremost, if you need to go the hospital—go to the hospital. We cut back services [in the beginning] but not in our emergency rooms and not in our inpatient units. We HAVE moved things around to better protect patients and staff. I would definitely encourage people to go to the hospital or to your doctor if you need to. Now, if you have respiratory symptoms, we ask that you call the doctor first so we can screen you over the phone.”
Handling the Reopening of Services
Throughout the entire “lockdown,” Witham Health Services did not furlough any of its employees.
“We redeployed them and were able to keep our whole staff,” Dr. Ingham said. “That has been extremely important to me. Now, we begin to reopen, it’s been a matter of redeploying them back to their home departments. Our physicians have been seeing urgent or patients that they felt they needed to see and have been doing virtual visits for other patients. I’ve even had some docs do traveling visits as well as nurses who went out to patients’ homes.”
Dr. Ingham continued, “As we’ve reopened, we’ve been working to keep the practices clean. We’re seeing the elderly and at-risk patients either first or at the end of the [work] day. Again, we’re asking that all respiratory patients call first so we can practice social distancing. We don’t want them in the waiting room. We want them to walk in and right into an exam room. We are limited the number of patients we see a day and playing with all these different things, trying to work through all these things so that we keep everyone—patients, physicians and staff—protected. We are open, and we are here for those who need us.”
Do Not Underestimate COVID-19
Dr. Ingham emphasized that as the medical community continues to learn about the nuances of COVID-19, along with us lay people, he felt it was important to note that the virus is not to be underestimated—by anyone.
For more information on Witham Health Services and a complete list of available health and community services, visit witham.org.