Yesterday, I had the opportunity to connect with Michele Chulick, President and CEO of the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper. As of April 20, there have been 38 laboratory confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Natrona County, 22 of which have recovered.
I checked in with Ms. Chulick for an update on how the hospital and community are coping with the pandemic as well as the status of diagnosed patients. A snapshot of our conversation follows. Please note these answers are only summaries, edited for length and clarity.
One piece of advice that I am continually hearing from our medical community is that it is imperative for all of us to continue social distancing, wearing masks and following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. Leadership from Wyoming Medical Center, including Ms. Chulick and Drs. Mark Dowell and Ghazi Ghanem, co-medical directors of infection control and co-Natrona County Health Officers, penned an Op-Ed this weekend in the Casper Star Tribune on the importance of remaining vigilant in order to limit the pandemic’s spread. I encourage you to read this importance piece by clicking here.
While progress is being made to ‘flatten the curve,’ we are not out of the woods yet. It is up to each and every one of us to stay diligent in following protocols.
CL: How is morale at the hospital?
MC: We are doing well considering the circumstances. Our census overall is down. We aren’t seeing as many patients because elective procedures are being postponed to preserve PPE. As a result, we’ve had to reduce hours for many employees as have hospitals across the country. Reduced worked hours is difficult for our employees.
These are unprecedented times and we are dealing with a disease that is incredibly contagious. We have been meeting non-stop across all departments to keep staff, patients and visitors safe at this time.
The Wyoming Medical Center went to ‘complete masking’ last week meaning we are requiring all staff, caregivers and visitors to wear masks. This is an essential way to contain the virus and protect not only our team, but the whole community.
CL: How many COVID-19 positive patients are at Wyoming Medical Center right now?
MC: There are eight COVID-19 positive patients at the hospital right now, some are ventilated and some are not.
CL: Have you had any direct-care hospital staff test positive for COVID-19?
MC: Not at this point.
CL: Are there any commonalities among the patients who have tested positive for COVID-19?
MC: I wouldn’t say there is one specific characteristic among all of the COVID-19 positive patients we have seen. The ages and backgrounds of the patients have all been quite varied.
What we are seeing is that when you have places like the long-term care facility in Fremont County or the Wyoming Behavioral Institute here in Casper, places where there are many people in close proximity and with close physical relationships, the virus is much more contagious.
The most important thing right now is social distancing, not gathering in groups and wearing a mask. If we really want to think about opening up our economy, we need to focus on wearing masks to protect both you and the community. The hospital and Natrona County are looking at ways to provide the public with enough masks to ensure everyone has one.
CL: The University of Washington put out one of the best models for when states may peak in terms of cases. It predicted Wyoming would peak April 29. Do you think that might be a realistic model?
MC: That is a question best answered by an epidemiologist, but what I have heard, and what I think is important for people to remember, is that the latest model shows April 30 as the peak resource use in Wyoming and May 1 as the peak day for deaths. I do not believe that Wyoming has peaked yet. These forecasts have been fairly accurate for the rest of the country, so I do think this predictive modeling is pretty good.
CL: How has the community been supporting the Wyoming Medical Center?
MC: The community support to our hospital and staff has been outstanding. We continue to receive donations of PPEs, including cloth gowns and masks. The number of restaurants and stores that have donated food to staff has been amazing. We cannot express our gratitude enough.
CL: Anything else you want to convey to people around Wyoming?
MC: We can only fight this pandemic if residents follow the prescribed direction and guidance from the CDC. We need to keep practicing social distancing. Do not gather in groups greater than ten. Wear a mask when you are outside the home. Our ability to contain the spread is what will allow us to be able to look at re-opening our economy sooner rather than later. It’s also important to note that once we see the curve go down, we cannot expect to open up the economy right away, certainly not as it was last year. We will have a new normal. A new way to engage with each other. We will have to be open to that and respectful of the protocols we need to follow until we can control this with a vaccine or some other means.
Lastly, the Wyoming Medical Center is really appreciative of the efforts of the state. Should there be a surge, our hospital is ready to serve not only our community, but all of Wyoming. We have great resources and incredible expertise in our co-medical directors of infection control Drs. Mark Dowell and Ghazi Ghanem.
Our Natrona County Campaign Chairs, JoAnn and Shane True and Ryan McConnaughey, coordinated a donation of meals to hospital staff from Grab and Go Gourmet last week. Thanks to owner Maggie King and her team for making this happen!