A hospital in Guymon - struggling to cope with 116 positive COVID-19 cases among workers at a nearby meat processing plant - recently sent several coronavirus patients to AllianceHealth Woodward due to the local facility's designation as a regional hospital for pandemics.

AllianceHealth is often tasked with taking patients from smaller hospitals that can't care for those cases. Texas County Emergency Manager Harold Tyson said the Guymon hospital only has one isolation room, which needs a separate air circulation system or air purifiers.

“We send all of our patients, our critical patients, to Woodward,” Tyson said. “Woodward hospital has been designated as the regional hospital for the Northwest [Oklahoma] for pandemics.”

According to Director of Marketing and Outreach Doug Ross, AllianceHealth Woodward has for years been a regional facility, with resources and capabilities other hospitals in this part of the state do not have. AllianceHealth have accepted transfers from surrounding facilities when possible, and when in the best interest of the patient.

“We have known from the beginning stages of planning for the COVID-19 virus that we are surrounded by critical access hospitals that do not have Intensive Care Units, and that we would be a transfer possibility for COVID patients, depending on our patient census, PPE, and staffing,” Ross said. “We have prepared for a surge in our community and surrounding areas, and so far, the surge of patients has not exceeded our capacity.”

A dedicated group of independent physicians and a health care team has prepared diligently to care for COVID patients, Ross said.

“We do consider each transfer on an individual basis, taking into consideration the care and safety of our non-COVID patients, all staff, and the possibility of COVID cases coming in from our own community, at any time,” Ross said. “We also have the option of redirecting patients to other facilities that have already experienced their initial surge of COVID patients and have capacity.”

Since AllianceHealth has an ample supply of personal protective equipment, patients are cared for in designated and dedicated areas to facilitate a safe environment for staff and patients, according to Ross.

While the hospital does admit patients from surrounding areas, Ross is confident it has the capacity and staff to provide typical patient care for the Woodward community, as well as local COVID patients.

Woodward County reported only one positive test for COVID-19 compared with 274 positive tests in Texas County as of Wednesday, according to the state health department. Woodward and Texas counties each have a population of about 20,000 people.

"We are a regional medical center for all of northwest Oklahoma, and we are here and ready to serve those in need,” CEO Landon Hise said.

None of the officials would say how many patients have been transferred to Woodward, or other hospitals.

Texas County, where Guymon is the county seat, has been especially hard hit, with 274 cases – the fifth-highest in the state. There were 16 new positive cases on Tuesday. Oklahoma currently has 230 COVID-19 patients in the hospital.

“The new positive results are for 14 Guymon residents and two Hooker residents. Of all confirmed county cases, the Oklahoma State Department of Health is reporting 96 recovered in Texas County,” said Public Information Officer Miranda Gilbert with Texas County emergency management. “OSDH is not reporting hospitalizations for our county COVID-19 cases. An investigation into any positive result is standard, and all persons in close contact with the person will be notified by the [OSDH] and advised of quarantine and testing procedure.”

According to Woodward County Emergency Management Director Matt Lehenbauer, all medical facilities in the area must have surge plans in case of a mass casualty incident or a mass hospitalization. In the case of preparing for a pandemic, officials city hospitals could fill up more quickly than rural ones.

Standardized medical emergency response plans have been made in case of disaster or pandemic for rural hospitals in regional medical meetings so all facilities can work together, according to Lehenbauer.

Even though Oklahoma state officials had told emergency management personnel in Northwest Oklahoma no more supplies would be sent out, Gov. Kevin Stitt has been made aware of Guymon’s plight and is sending a truck with supplies this week, according to Tyson.

Most of the Texas County cases were employees of Seaboard, a pork processing company near Guymon. Tyson said he has been informed the National Guard will be arriving next week to test Seaboard employees.

“Seaboard’s done a good job,” Tyson said. “They're screening everybody that comes in, taking temperatures. They slowed their chain way, way down so their people are not close to each other. … They're doing good there, but when their people leave the plant, that's when it happens.”

Family members in the area may work at different plants, even as far away as Liberal, Kansas. The contagion can spread when they come together after they leave work, according to Tyson.

Seward County, where Liberal is located, is also home to meat-processing plants and has recorded over 600 positive tests.

“This is different for us,” Tyson said. “You give me a tornado or a blizzard or a flood or something like that, we can handle that. We don't know how to handle this pandemic stuff.”

The Texas County Health Department has performed approximately 445 tests, according to Regional Director Terri Salisbury.

“We have no active cases in Woodward County,” Salisbury said. “I believe, with the use of personal protective equipment, that the medical profession has adequate protection to treat and care for COVID-19 patients.”

Salisbury shared confidence that local medical professionals are using good judgment and practicing proper procedures for preventing spread of the coronavirus to the public.

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Editor's Note:

Here is a letter from Dr. Jason Ray, the emergency department director and chief of staff of the independent medical staff at AllianceHealth Woodward.

"It has come to our attention that there is concern in the community about our hospital and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.   Believe me, we understand your fears.  Essentially no one alive has been through something like this.  There has really been no other conversation in our medical community but COVID-19 for over a month.  Our staff has spent countless hours studying and learning from the places that have been taking care of these patients.  We have had over a hundred hours of meetings to plan and prepare.  Thanks to the dedication and expertise available here we have been able to modify our facility to be able to isolate any patients with COVID-19 and the staff taking care of them.  This has allowed us to continue to provide the care required to our regular patients needing hospitalization and to reopen our surgery department.  For years we have been the only Regional Medical Center for Northwest Oklahoma with ICU and surgical capabilities.   We have been taking care of patients from the surrounding area and Panhandle for quite some time.   We proudly stand ready to take care of our neighbors in this time of need.  And we continue to be prepared to take care of your medical needs.  If and when this illness causes people in our community to need our services we will be all the more prepared for that because of experience gained taking care of those who need our help now."

Jason S. Ray, MD

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