Wyoming Medical Center is converting one of its clinics into a respiratory and coronavirus-specific primary care facility in an effort to ease a potential crush of patients that may otherwise overwhelm the hospital elsewhere.
The clinic, located at 245 S. Fenway St., will act as the hospital’s go-to location for any potential COVID-19 cases. Patients calling into WMC’s various primary and acute care clinics will be directed to the facility, which will be run by the hospital’s chief of staff, Dr. Andy Dunn, along with a handful of nurses and nurse practitioners.
The clinic will accept walk-ins, Dunn said, as well as referrals from providers elsewhere. Patients will be evaluated by the medical staff; depending on their symptoms, they may be tested first for influenza. If that test is negative and the patient has COVID-19 symptoms, Dunn and his staff may order the patient be tested for the respiratory virus.
Thus far, the state lab has not tested any WMC patients. The hospital “has approached the health department about a handful of cases, but they did not meet the state’s criteria for testing.” On Friday, the department announced it was shifting the guidelines and would accept tests it hadn’t previously approved.
The clinic will open Monday and remain open for four to six weeks, “as long as it takes to get past the peak,” Dunn said. The goal is twofold: to effectively treat coronavirus patients while not overloading the emergency room or primary care clinics with patients who either have or believe they have the highly contagious infection.
Health officials in Natrona County have for days urged patients not to go to the ER if they have a fever or a cough. They’ve said that’s a recipe to overload Casper’s health care system and spread the virus to others in the hospital. They’ve told patients to call their providers if they’re concerned they may have COVID-19.
The respiratory virus, which has spread rapidly across the U.S. and the world over the past week, is characterized by cough, fever and shortness of breath. It’s received significant attention in Wyoming over the past five days. On Wednesday, the state confirmed a Sheridan woman had tested positive for the virus, and Friday night the health department announced another confirmed case: an older man in Fremont County. Community colleges have canceled classes and moved coursework online, Gov. Mark Gordon declared a state of emergency and institutions across Wyoming have canceled large gatherings.
The plan for WMC’s newest clinic came together remarkably rapidly: Dunn said his staff first came up with the idea early Thursday morning. By Friday morning, the clinic — which normally is home to the hospital’s diabetes clinic — was cleared out of its old equipment. (The diabetes clinic is now in the McMurry building, behind WMC.)
Dunn stressed that more than 80 percent of patients will have mild or no symptoms. Only those in “significant respiratory distress” — those are struggling to breathe — should go to the ER, even if they have the virus.
There is no known treatment for COVID-19. If Dunn or his team positively diagnose one of their new patients with the virus, they’ll be able to prescribe more symptomatic medications and treatments: cough suppressants, steroids or inhalers to help with breathing, fluids to stay hydrated. The clinic will work closely with the state Health Department, which is processing many of the COVID-19 tests in Wyoming.
Because the clinic is specifically designed to treat COVID-19, it will be well-outfitted to not spread the disease within its doors. Everyone entering the clinic will have to wear a mask. Chairs in the waiting room and halls are kept several feet apart. All of the providers will wear gowns, masks, gloves and goggles.
“It’s primary care at its finest,” said Dunn, who is based at Mesa Primary Care, which he runs.
The clinic will have a drive-thru for the sickest patients, elderly patients or patients in wheelchairs.
The clinic will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Depending on the need in future years, it may reopen during the worst of the influenza season, which has hit Wyoming particularly hard recently.
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