Hospital changes entrance setup

Retested Windemere staff member tests negative for COVID-19.

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Nine days with no new confirmed cases at the hospital. — Lexi Pline

As Martha’s Vineyard Hospital brings back several of its elective procedures, changes are taking place to better facilitate the flow of patients.

In a weekly conference call with reporters Wednesday, chief nurse and chief operating officer Claire Seguin said the hospital will be taking down some of the tents in front of the hospital, and installing pods, which are small, trailer-type offices. The pod where the nurse stays and keeps testing materials will act as a “semipermanent structure.”

Another pod will be placed outside the emergency room entrance for emergency room staff to put on and take off their equipment.

Along with the pods, more signage will be placed around the hospital, entrances will be numbered, screeners will provide masks and information on where to go to patients, and ushers will be brought in to help direct patients around the hospital.

Patients who have scheduled appointments will enter through an entrance provided to them when they book their appointment, be screened and registered, clean their hands with hand sanitizer, put on a mask, then be ushered to where they need to go. Instructions will be provided in both English and Portuguese.

“We are trying to control our density and keep our dialysis patients, and our maternity patients, in a safer place by directing them through different doors,” hospital CEO Denise Schepici said.

Seguin stressed that patients should still call ahead of time to do prescreening and to schedule their appointments.

This comes as the hospital is set to test its 1,000th patient this week. On Wednesday, the hospital confirmed 980 patients have been tested for COVID-19. Of those, 28 have tested positive, 927 have tested negative, and 25 are pending results. There are zero hospitalizations at the hospital, but the hospital has previously transferred three patients off-Island for COVID-related issues.

As the hospital reaches the milestone of 1,000 tested patients, Schepici said, “we are not out of the woods yet.”

During the conference call, Schepici touched on the Island’s peaceful demonstration in response to the killing of George Floyd. While she stressed the need for people to gather safely, she also supported the cause. “I always worry when we are seeing people without masks,” Schepici said. “But I respect the protestors immensely. I am with them in solidarity around the cause and their passion. I just ask for everybody to stay safe and think about safety and to keep it peaceful.”

Schepici met with Windemere Nursing & Rehabilitation Center administrator Marie Zadeh Tuesday to discuss visitation policies for the Island’s long-term-care facility.

Massachusetts is easing restrictions on long-term-care facilities, and allowing some visitation as part of its phase two reopening plan, but Schepici said visitation is still a few weeks out for Windemere. “We are in the planning phases. We are still going to encourage Zoom visits and all of that,” Schepici said. “We will have a visitor policy in place in the next couple of weeks.”

Schepici confirmed that the Windemere staff member who needed to be retested following a mass testing of Windemere residents and staff by the Department of Public Health tested negative for COVID-19. All residents and staff have tested negative for COVID-19, a far cry from other nursing homes across Massachusetts, which have been bombarded with positive COVID-19 cases. 

“We are not anxious, by any means, to open the doors at this time,” Schepici said of Windemere. 

The lodging industry will be allowed to open up and take reservations. While there is no order on self-quarantining, the state is requiring that lodging operators must inform out-of-state customers there is a recommendation to self-quarantine for 14 days.

While the quarantine recommendation has confused some lodging operators, Schepici said she is not as worried about self-quarantining as she was initially. “The guidance is [Gov. Charlie Baker] is urging people to do it, he’s not forcing people to do it. I’m just hoping people will use common sense,” Schepici said.

On Monday, DPH began reporting on the number of antibody tests conducted across the state, but Schepici said those tests are “still inconclusive.”

Antibody blood tests check a patient’s blood by looking for antibodies, which show if there was a previous infection with COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Antibodies are proteins that help fight infections.

While the hospital is not offering antibody testing to the public, it has conducted several antibody tests on its staff and some first responders, as part of a clinical trial with the hospital’s parent company, Partners Healthcare. The hospital has completed its clinical trial, but Schepici said there is a “low prevalence” of antibodies that were tested.

“The science is not behind antibody testing as a massive test to ensure immunity, yet,” Schepici said. “It’s still very, very imperfect.”

On Monday, the hospital also welcomed podiatrist Dr. Regina Mostone, who was hired to meet a growing need for podiatry on the Island. Dr. Mostone comes most recently from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The hospital has also hired a new cardiologist, Dr. Aliya Browne, who will begin work at the hospital on June 15. Dr. Browne comes from MidMichigan Health in West Branch, Mich.

At his daily press conference Wednesday, Baker said public health data were trending in a positive direction, and that the state had seen a 77 percent drop in positive cases since the beginning of May. He stressed the importance of social distancing and hand washing.

“These positive trends in public health data are the primary indicators of how COVID-19 is impacting our communities, and will continue to determine how and when we pursue measures associated with our reopening program,” Baker said. “We’ve also made significant progress in fighting COVID, and more people are opening businesses. But as more things reopen, and as we get into the summer, we also must remember how quickly we move forward ultimately depends on how well we do our jobs.”

On Tuesday, DPH reported 358 new confirmed cases, with 50 new deaths due to COVID-19. That brings the total number of confirmed cases to 101,163 and total confirmed deaths to 7,085. 

The total number of probable cases, which includes all probable cases stretching back to March 1, is 3,625, with 110 new cases Tuesday. The total number of probable deaths is 141 with zero probable deaths reported Tuesday.

Probable cases include patients with positive molecular tests, positive serology/antibody tests, patients who were not tested, but had COVID-19 symptoms and were know to be exposed to a positive case, as well as patients whose death certificates list COVID-19 as a cause of death, but did not receive a laboratory test. 

The state is also now keeping track of the number of antibody tests with 885 new antibody tests taken. Overall 46,565 patients have been tested for antibodies.