Punxsutawney Area Hospital’s CEO Weighs in on COVID 19

No one is busier these days than Punxsutawney Area Hospital CEO, Daniel Blough. As one of Pennsylvania hospital’s most seasoned executives, we took a few minutes to ask him some questions that our community is asking.

Q.  Let’s start with:  What is COVID 19?

On February 11, 2020 the World Health Organization announced an official name for the disease that is causing the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, first identified in Wuhan,  China. The new name of this disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease.

There are many types of human coronaviruses including some that commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses. COVID-19 is a new disease, caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans. 

Q.  What is the hospital doing to stop the spread?

This is an emerging and rapidly evolving situation. Punxsutawney Area Hospital is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the CDC. The hospital will continue to provide updated information to our community as it becomes available. Our board, medical staff and employees are working 24/7 to protect people’s health. This includes our healthcare workforce by operationalizing our emergency preparedness plan.

The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”) in some affected geographic areas. To date there are no confirmed cases in Punxsutawney or Jefferson County. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.  But we are encouraging our community to follow ‘reliable sources’ including the CDC, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and locally Punxsutawney Area Hospital and the Spirit who has been committed to getting sound information to our communities. 

Q. What are those tents on the hospital campus?

Our response plan for managing an infectious disease community outbreak includes the ability to screen, triage, evaluate, and potentially care for patients in alternative care settings. The hospital is evaluating our current systems and processes.  We are training, drilling, and dry running our systems in case we need to respond quickly.  Working with the medical staff, we want to make sure we are prepared if and when, a surge of patients presents to our campus.  Our focus is keeping both our dedicated staff and our patients in the safest environment by reducing the risk of transmission to health care workers and other patients.  Patients coming to the campus may see screeners at our entrances, new entrances and people with PPE (personal protective equipment) like masks and other protective clothing.

Q. What are those ‘space like suits’ we see on TV and will we see them in Punxsutawney?

You may see a nurse, physician or other clinician in a PAPR (Personal Air Purifying Respirator).  Don’t be alarmed it is for staff safety.  It allows hospital staff to get close to patients while minimizing risk to staff.  Healthcare workers are important resources we need to preserve. 

Q. Do you have enough equipment?

We are monitoring our equipment and practicing resource management to protect our employees now and into the future.  We have enough protective equipment today and into the future, and we are working to ensure we have adequate equipment for future weeks and months.  Obviously our supply needs are dependent on the number of patients who present to our campus for diagnosis, care and treatment.

Q. Are local residents at risk for COVID 19?

This is a rapidly evolving situation and the risk assessment may change daily. The latest updates are available on CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) website.

Risk depends on characteristics of the virus, including how well it spreads between people; the severity of resulting illness; and the medical or other measures available to control the impact of the virus (for example, vaccines or medications that can treat the illness) and the relative success of these. In the absence of vaccine or treatment medications, non-pharmaceutical interventions become the most important response strategy. These are community interventions that can reduce the impact of disease. The risk from COVID-19 to our community can be broken down into risk of exposure versus risk of serious illness and death.

Risk of exposure:

  • The immediate risk of being exposed to this virus is still low for most Americans, but as the outbreak expands, that risk will increase. Cases of COVID-19 and instances of community spread are being reported in a growing number of states.
  • People in places where ongoing community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated risk of exposure, with the level of risk dependent on the location.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure and I am laser focused on making sure our staff are safe-  by training, equipment availability and creating systems to reduce exposure whenever possible
  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure.

We are paying close attention to our community members who have serious underlying medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.  In addition under the direction of the CDC, our clinicians are focused on creating systems and protocols for pregnant women, people with Asthma, older residents and immune compromised adults and children. 

Q. What would you like the community hear about the hospital and COVID19?

I want to assure the community that your hospital and the incredibly dedicated team of staff and clinicians we have here are doing everything they can do prepare for potential cases of coronavirus.  While we have not yet had a confirmed case of COVID 19 in Punxsutawney, residents should be taking this situation very seriously and taking every precaution we can to prevent any potential spread within our community.

In fact, we should be acting as if the virus is already here.

We are in full support of the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s advising residents business and organizations to cancel events and gatherings, practice social distancing, work from home if you are able to, and take everyday actions that are proven to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like COVID 19.

Those include: avoiding close contact with people who are sick, avoiding touching eyes nose and mouth with unwashed hands, washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol based hand sanitizer and staying home if  your feel sick.  Your hospital has been here for over 100 years and we are committed to the people we serve.