PLATTSBURGH — An outbreak of six COVID-19 cases in the R7 medical surgical unit at University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital this week has resulted in 25 employees being taken out of work due to potential exposure and the facility entering Level 2 Disaster mode.

CVPH Director of Quality and Safety Brenda Murphy, who oversees infection control and patient experience, told The Press-Republican that the disaster designation does not affect day-to-day business, but rather communicates the need for the organization's staff to work together during this time, in part by picking up additional hours or working in different units and departments.

"It's all hands on deck to take care of patients," she said.

Murphy emphasized that it is still safe to seek care at the hospital.

"We are doing everything we can, just more out of precaution to make sure we keep patients and our employees as safe as we can."

ROUTINE TESTING

The cluster of coronavirus patients on R7 was first discovered when a patient set to be discharged to a congregate living facility underwent routine testing, Murphy said. The result came back positive, initiating contact tracing.

Murphy said one of the R7 patients had previously been on R5, and that there had also been a positive patient on R5 two weeks before, leading the hospital to look into whether there was a connection.

"While doing that contact tracing, we learned that there had been two others in the community who were now positive and had been patients on R5 in and around that same time period," she continued.

Those two people had been discharged by the time the first case was discovered.

All current R5 patients were tested, and their results came back negative. Murphy noted testing of staff was ongoing.

FOUR STILL ON UNIT

As of Friday, two of the COVID-positive R7 patients had been discharged and the four who remained on the unit were the only patients housed there.

Though R7 is not the dedicated COVID-19 floor, the decision was made to keep the patients there as they typically have longer stays and were used to staff and the environment, Murphy said.

She did not say if any of the patients were symptomatic, citing patient health information privacy.

Staff were not assigned solely to the unit, Murphy continued.

"All of our staff are competent to take care of COVID patients and non-COVID patients."

In one of two memos sent to "CVPH All Exchange and Physicians" Thursday, copies of which were forwarded to The Press-Republican, CVPH President/COO Michelle LeBeau wrote that both the R7 and R5 teams continued to care for patients donning the full complement of personal protective equipment.

"New admissions to the units will be limited, must meet specific criteria and be reviewed by an infectious disease physician."

ANCILLARY STAFF IMPACTED

The hospital initially believed that 15 of the employees would be able to return to work as they were fully vaccinated as of two weeks ago.

"However, current guidance from the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) indicates otherwise," LeBeau wrote.

On top of R7 team members, "ancillary staff including Respiratory Therapy, Transport, Environmental Services and Oncology have been affected by this exposure," she added.

"This event, which has implications across the entire organization, requires all of us to work together to be sure our patients continue to be cared for and our coworkers supported."

All available resources, such as per diem staff, leadership and travelers were being utilized to secure staffing over the next several days, LeBeau continued, noting that support roles including registered nurses, clinical assistants, patient sitters and transporters were still needed.

Employees who wanted to help were directed to contact their leaders.

CONTACT TRACING

As of Thursday, the hospital's COVID-19 census house-wide was 18, according to one of the memos. On Friday, Murphy said it was 13.

The hospital was not diverging patients to other hospitals, she continued, adding that transfers to any partner facilities were dependent upon where the patients were from and the acuity of care they needed.

All employees are advised to get tested for COVID-19, Murphy said, noting the hospital has always told staff they are welcome to utilize the state testing site at 295 New York Rd. at any given time.

"But more specifically we are making phone calls to those who provided care on those units, ensuring that if they want to take the opportunity to get tested that they do."

Contact tracing surrounding the cluster, though time consuming, was wrapping up, Murphy said.

"We certainly have been in touch with those we felt were in close proximity and at higher risk."

STILL SAFE

Murphy said CVPH was working hand in hand with health departments and has received great feedback on the handling of the cluster.

She thanked the hospital's Infection Prevention and Occupational Health & Wellness teams, which are responsible for contact tracing.

Email Cara Chapman:

cchapman@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @PPR_carachapman

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