Letter from Jeff Feasel, President & CEO

Coronavirus at Halifax Health – A letter from Jeff Feasel, President and CEO

For over 90 years, Halifax Health has served as the community’s health care leader and has provided necessary care to all residents, especially in times of crisis. As the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues and fears and uncertainty rise, I feel it is important for me to give you, the citizens who own our community health system, an update and report on our plans and preparedness during this difficult time.

I would like to share information regarding three areas of our health system: our role, our preparedness and our commitment.

Our role in this pandemic is to remain open and ready to care for the most ill in our community. Fortunately, most people who contract the virus will not need hospitalization. For those who do, we must and will be here to provide 24-hour care even under the most dire circumstances.

If you or someone you know has symptoms of COVID-19 such as cough, difficulty breathing and fever, the first thing to do is to stay home so you don’t pass the flu or the virus to anyone else. The next thing you should do is call your physician’s office or the Health Department’s COVID-19 hotline (1-866-779-6121). If you need a COVID-19 test, your physician can order the test for you. There are several places that can collect the test to run, including LabCorp and Quest Labs. It currently takes about three days to receive the test results. We expect the ability to test will increase rapidly, resulting in more testing sites throughout the community and quicker results.

If you are having any trouble breathing or severe respiratory symptoms, you should be seen in the emergency department for further evaluation and treatment.

Halifax Health is getting ready

We are preparing for significant increases in the number of patients requiring hospital services if COVID-19 begins spreading in our community. Our three hospitals have been designed and built to accommodate surges in patient population — virtually allowing us to double our bed capacity should the need arise.

In our Emergency Departments, all patients with fever and respiratory infection symptoms are placed on isolation for the protection of staff and other patients. They are seen and evaluated by a qualified medical provider and appropriate treatment is provided.

In order to maintain the safest environment for our team members, patients and visitors, and to plan for increased demand, we are setting up emergency services tents and separate screening areas at all of our hospitals in order to facilitate quicker and safer screening of patients who present with possible COVID-19 symptoms. Currently, patients who present with these systems will be screened based on their symptoms, travel history, possible exposures and other risk factors. Based on guidance from the Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a determination is made whether a test for COVID-19 is appropriate. We are not testing patients without symptoms.

If the patient requires hospitalization, they are admitted for further testing and treatment. If they do not require hospitalization, they are discharged home and are directed to self-quarantine and follow-up with the Health Department and their primary physician. If the patient is discharged home and a COVID-19 test was sent to an outside lab for results, our Infection Prevention team will coordinate follow-up with the patient and the Health Department.

Facing the challenges

As we prepare, there are many challenges. These challenges are being faced by all health systems preparing for this outbreak. These include rationing of personal protective equipment from the distributors and manufacturers, the possibility of staff becoming ill and unable to work and limited testing capability. That being said, we are working both locally and nationally to plan for increased demand beyond our current levels of preparedness.

It is important to note that as there is no specific treatment for coronaviruses such as COVID-19 and the primary purpose of testing is to allow for the appropriate public health response, as well as to inform patients about their course of illness and any necessary steps to take for self-isolation. Many of these steps are already recommended for patients who may be at risk for casual contact with a coronavirus of any kind. We are fortunate at Halifax Health to have full-time, in-house infection control specialists and epidemiologists who are working non-stop to help us understand, communicate and prepare for the latest developments.

Last week, with the exception of end of life situations, we restricted our visitation policy to allow only two visitors per patient. Only non-symptomatic partners, immediate family over 12 years of age and health care surrogates may access Halifax Health locations.

All visitors are screened for symptoms of the flu and possible COVID-19. Anyone with flu-like symptoms will not be allowed access. We do not allow symptomatic visitors to enter our patient care areas. In addition, no visitors are allowed in our locations under 12 years of age with the exception of our pediatric outpatient practices. We have also suspended visits to patients by clergy. If a special clergy exception needs to made, those can be arranged through our Pastoral Care department.

We have added CDC recommendations to the halifaxhealth.org web site and update it regularly to provide you with the latest information available. We encourage you to visit the CDC and Florida Health Department web sites for the most up-to-date and reliable information.

Our 4,300 team members are prepared to once again serve our community in a time of crisis. We hope for the best, but we are prepared for the worst. What I know for sure is that Halifax Health stands ready and beside you to endure this pandemic and that you could not be in better hands should you need care.

Halifax Health’s commitment to our community is to be there – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – for all. I assure you our Board of Commissioners, our team members and I are here to help you through this in the safest and least disruptive manner possible. Remember, for the most reputable information at all times please go to CDC.gov. If you or someone you know has flu-like symptoms (fever, difficulty breathing, cough, runny nose) call the COVID-19 Hotline at 1-866-779-6121.

Jeff Feasel, President and CEO of Halifax Health