Photo: Peter Blasl

Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhad has implemented revised, stricter protocols to protect its patients and staff and is preparing “surge capacity” to deal with an influx of coronavirus patients, top hospital officials told RiverheadLOCAL in an interview this afternoon.

The hospital has not had any confirmed positives of infection with the novel coronavirus yet, said PBMC president and CEO Andrew Mitchell.

“We do have a couple of people in isolation we’re still evaluating,” he said. They have been tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting the results.

Mitchell and PBMC’s deputy executive director Amy Loeb both said in an interview today that the hospital is well positioned to deal with a surge in patients that may come as a result of the spread of COVID-19.

PBMC just completed construction of a new critical care tower. It has all of its approvals and a temporary C.O. and will occupy the new space next week, Mitchell said. That will free up existing intensive care beds.

The Corey Critical Care Pavilion includes a “shell space” built to accommodate a future emergency department expansion. The hospital is preparing to use that space for patient triage and additional capacity for the emergency department, if necessary, to handle any patient surge, Loeb said.

See update: Anticipating coronavirus patients, PBMC is hastily building supplemental emergency room

Emergency declarations by President Donald Trump and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have made it possible for hospitals to deploy temporary spaces for patient care to answer increased demands as a result of the spread of coronavirus infection.

“We are very focused on the cluster out in the Southold-Greenport area and we’re monitoring it closely,” Mitchell said today.

As of midday today there were 11 confirmed novel coronavirus infections in the Town of Southold, including infections in three employees at Peconic Landing, a retirement community in Greenport.

School districts in Southold Town will be closed next week.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell on Thursday declared a state of emergency, canceling all public meetings, hearings and town-sponsored programs until further notice and closing all town offices to the public.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar issued a state of emergency Thursday evening, also canceling public meetings, town programs and two community events, including the Jamesport St. Patrick’s Day parade scheduled for March 28. She also closed town buildings to the public. Riverhead has not yet had a confirmed case of the infection, though the towns to its east and west have.

“We’ve been working closely in conjunction with the various town leaders,” Loeb said. “Our emergency command center is operational as is Northwell’s.”

Visiting at the hospital has been significantly curtailed.

Only one visitor at a time per patient is now permitted on the regular patient floors and in the intensive care unit, Mitchell said. The visitor must be over age 18 and must be masked, he said. Visiting hours have been cut back to 12-4 p.m. daily.

No visitors are allowed for any patient in isolation, for any patient in the surgical areas of the hospital, or for any patient in the PBMC skilled nursing facility, Mitchell said.

Family members of patients undergoing surgery can wait in the lobby waiting area but must wear masks, Loeb said.

No visitors are allowed in the emergency department, with the exception of pediatric patients, who will be able to have one masked adult over 18 with them, Loeb said.

All hospital staff must wear masks now as well.

Access to the hospital has been restricted to two entrances: the emergency department and the main entrance.

People seeking to enter the hospital’s main entrance are screened before even stepping into the building, Mitchell said. Hospital staff positioned outside the building ask questions about the person’s health, the health of known contacts, and recent travel. Once cleared to enter, they are greeted by a security guard for more screening.

If cleared to go upstairs, the visitor is given a sticker that says “I’ve been screened,” Loeb said.

“Visiting hours are all subject to change as things evolve,” she said.

The hospital “census” — the number of beds occupied is “high-normal” at 110, Mitchell said. The hospital is currently certified at 140 beds.

The hospital is prepared to cancel elective surgeries if necessary, as the governor has discussed, but for now it is still doing them and plans to continue until receiving any guidance to the contrary, Mitchell said.

Meanwhile, amid all of the changes and preparations for what could be an unprecedented demand on hospital services, representatives of the Joint Commission, a national hospital accrediting agency, arrived this week to conduct a rigorous, multi-day inspection of the medical center, Mitchell said.

“It’s a very robust survey against thousands of conditions,” Loeb said.

“We had zero infection control findings,” Mitchell said.

Loeb said the representatives said the survey was “extraordinary” and said they were impressed.

“It’s a tribute to our staff,” Loeb said.

“And it’s good to know that, as we’re preparing to deal with this potential public health crisis in our region, we’ve just gotten a perfect result like that for infection control,” Mitchell said.

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