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Cone Health & Community Collaborate

The former Women’s Hospital and Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro are being utilized to treat patients with COVID-19. (Inset) Wesley Long staff members Darlene Armstrong (L) and Helen Bulow take a much needed break. Ivan S. Cutler/Carolina Peacemaker.

Cone Health has received donations of medical and cleaning supplies to aid in the response to COVID-19. The donations have been in response to the worldwide scramble for healthcare supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers treating patients with the highly contagious viral infection, COVID-19.

Healthcare leaders have coordinated with various local organizations and community members to collect personal protection equipment (PPE).

“The amount of PPE needed has probably tripled our daily usage. And it’s something that everyone else needed as well. The community started to call us and ask what we needed. It was very inspiring,” said Michelle Schneider, vice president of Institutional Advancement and chief philanthropy officer.

According to Schneider, Cone Health leaders have worked diligently to find the type of items needed to make sure everyone is protected. Health system leaders vetted nearly 30 types of FDA approved PPE materials and tested multiple prototypes through a multi-tier process before any approvals were made.

Cone Health is now distributing and utilizing two new mask options. The first option is a one-time use mask that can be worn by anyone and anywhere. Made by Custom Converting Solutions in Greensboro, this company has been able to provide Cone Health with up to 7,000 masks a day. The second option is a reusable, wash and wear mask. Hudson’s Hill has committed to donating up to 10,000 hand-sewn, reusable masks using material from Burlington Fabrics. The first batch of reusable masks was distributed to patients at the cancer center.

“It’s really important that we have both options in the supply chain. They serve different purposes and we have needs for both of them,” said Schneider, adding that Cone Health has collected about 5,000 so far.

Healthcare employees still have access to the traditional N-95 masks and those masks are not being replaced by the new ones.

Cone Health is also receiving 10,000 disposable isolation gowns from a partnership between Greensboro-based Precision Fabrics Group and Kontoor Brands.

“In times like these, it’s important that we all rise to the occasion and redirect our efforts to help solve critical issues that have resulted from the spread of COVID-19,” said Kontoor Brands President and CEO Scott Baxter. “By producing gowns, we hope to help provide hospitals with the much-needed equipment to fight this virus.”

Before the stay-at-home orders were issued, March 27, community members, schools and small businesses donated PPE items on their own accord, which Schneider said they were happy to receive. After the city and county stay-at-home orders were put in place, Cone Health stopped accepting donations because they didn’t want people to risk their health to drop-off donations.

Instead, small teams were assembled to assist in coordinating and distributing donations, which are all being used across Cone Health’s multi-county service area. One team picks up donations, one team coordinates and picks up meals that businesses and people are providing for frontline workers, and one team is responsible for curating innovative gifts in the fight against COVID-19.

Monetary donations are also being accepted. Cone Health leaders have been exploring creative ways to support patients and frontline workers. Schneider shared that some monetary donations were used to purchase phone chargers and iPads for patient use.

“These are evolving needs. There are no visitors allowed right now, so people can’t communicate with their loved ones if their phone dies,” she said. “It’s a way to help patients feel less disconnected from the world while they are there.”

Cone Health also coordinated with Baggallini, a handbag company that has donated 500 fanny packs for frontline workers to easily carry and access their PPE items. Each bag is filled with donated items such as hand sanitizer, gloves and eye protection goggles.

Local clothing company, Buckhead Betties, donated special mesh bags to Cone Health to be used to collect and wash caregivers’ clothing in order to reduce further infections.

“These innovative gifts have helped us address needs as they arise,” said Schneider. “The outpouring of support has been incredible.”

Dr. Douglas Brent McQuaid, Pulmonary and Critical Care physician and medical director of Greensboro Women’s Hospital (Green Valley campus) also noted the amount of community support has helped keep morale up among the hospital staff – from local artists contributing custom pieces to decorate the space, to people sending thank you cards to the staff.

“There’s been an outpouring of support from the community. We understand that the community is holding us up during this time,” said Dr. McQuaid.

On April 13, Cone Health opened the Greensboro Women’s Hospital on Green Valley Road to care for COVID-19 patients. There are currently 116 beds with room for more. According to Dr. McQuaid, at least 25 had been admitted to the ICU at that time.

While following measures in place to stay healthy, Dr. McQuaid noted that he wants people to be aware of the spectrum of symptoms of the virus in order to receive the proper treatment required. Cone Health is offering virtual appointments to limit the number of people going to the hospital.

“It’s important for people to know that most likely, you are not going to become critically ill if you get COVID-19. In most medical studies, 80 percent have minimal symptoms, it doesn’t typically progress. Twenty percent of patients do need a hospital, and about five percent of those patients need the ICU,” he said.

Dr. McQuaid also said that a common misconception is that the worst is over. Although people have been practicing social distancing, the threat of the virus will still be a problem for a while.

“We have done a good job with mitigation strategies to limit the spread. And those strategies have helped us have a better outlook on what the overall burden of the disease may look like over the next several weeks to months. I think that if we’re too cavalier and return to life too soon, we’re going to see bigger problems than we predicted,” Dr. McQuaid noted.

As of April 22, Guilford County Division of Public Health had been notified of 201 cases of COVID-19 and verified 15 deaths in Guilford County.

Dr. McQuaid said that a positive thing to note is that people are recovering.

“Even though this is a very severe illness and it does lead to death in some of our sickest patients, we have seen people improve and come off the ventilator. This is a time when emotions are high, people are nervous and scared, so we (staff) get really excited when we see people get better,” he said.

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