Hospital: COVID-19 patient ‘dumping’ rumors are not true

A mayoral candidate’s Facebook post, which has since been deleted, alleged Colbert County COVID patients were being forced onto Red Bay Hospital

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Among many safety changes at The Red Bay Hospital has been the construction of an “anteroom,” which allows for separation between any COVID-19 patients and other patients at the hospital. Above, hospital administrator Sherry Jolley, left, discusses how the safety protocol for the room works. News photo/Jason Collum

RED BAY | A Facebook post by a Red Bay mayoral candidate last week alleging Red Bay Hospital had “become a dumping ground for Colbert County coronavirus patients” from Helen Keller Hospital is untrue, according to hospital officials who added that the notion the hospital should not accept such patients flies in the face of legal, ethical healthcare.

In a post that has since been removed from his campaign’s Facebook page, candidate Juston Scott stated that Red Bay Hospital had been forced to accept COVID-19 patients from Colbert County, saying Helen Keller Hospital had “dumped” the patients on the hospital. His post went on to urge Mayor Charlene Fancher to immediately meet with the City Council and issue a resolution condemning the practice and calling for Helen Keller to stop sending patients here.

However, Red Bay Hospital Administrator Sherry Jolley said accusations of patient “dumping” are unfounded. On the day in question, Monday, July 27, the hospital had only received two (2) COVID-19 patients for swing bed, or rehab, and both were Franklin County residents. By Friday morning one of those patients had already been discharged.

Even if Colbert County residents had been referred to Red Bay, Jolly said the hospital has a duty and responsibility to provide medical care to anyone who comes to the hospital.

“We cannot legally or ethically turn away a patient that we are capable of caring for,” Jolley said. “The term ‘dumping’ would be more appropriate if, say, there were a patient that came in here and there is no reason we couldn’t take care of that patient, but because we didn’t want them for whatever reason, we turned around and transferred them up to Keller, Huntsville or NAMC (North Alabama Medical Center in Florence) – that’s dumping. Legally, but to me even more importantly ethically, we are bound to care for any patient that needs the care we are able to provide.”

The day the post was made Red Bay Hospital’s capacity would have allowed up to 19 patients to be admitted, which does not mean 19 patients had been admitted or even sent to the hospital.

“We had two patients we took in from Helen Keller to our rehab (swing bed) program,” Jolley said. “Both of these patients were stable patients who, yes, had tested positive for Coronavirus, but were at a point where their need was rehab. We do this every day. We take patients from hospitals all over this area and even out of Mississippi to give rehab care to them. I will stand by the statement that we have one of the best rehab facilities in north Alabama. So, if we can provide that care, had they been Colbert County patients, we would have accepted them. But it just so happened neither of those patients, as was reported, was a Colbert County patient. They were both Franklin County patients.”

Jolley said as a matter of transparency that anyone wanting to know the true picture of where Huntsville Hospital system facilities stand on COVID-19 inpatients can find the information posted on the Huntsville Hospital system’s website. Red Bay Hospital is an affiliate of Helen Keller Hospital, which is operated by the Huntsville Hospital system.

Concern for the community

Jolley said one of her chief concerns from the faulty social media post was that area residents might wrongly fear they could be exposed to the virus just by coming to the hospital and might stay home even if they really needed medical care.

“We have met all the CDC guidelines to safely care for patients, to keep our other patients safe and to keep our staff safe,” Jolley said. “We have since the beginning of this. We’ve even done some outpatient testing because it took a while for the Franklin County Health Department to get to a point where they can do that outpatient testing.

“As an extra step our infection control nurse routinely – not just since Corona but especially with this – has a disinfectant spray that you can’t detect except with a blue light,” Jolley said. “And then she goes back into the rooms after our Environmental Services ladies have been in there and turns that blue light on to see if she can find something that hasn’t been cleaned and I’ll be happy to say she never finds a spot. It’s a safe facility.”

Steve Cox, Environmental Services Director for Red Bay Hospital, said special safety protocols had been put into place to safeguard those who come to the hospital for testing and treatment. COVID-19 tests are administered in a waiting area and then that waiting area is completely disinfected once the individual is gone.

Among the many changes the hospital has made when it was determined COVID patients would be accepted was the construction of a new partition wall at the end of one treatment wing to provide an additional barrier of protection for patients. 

“We took the end of the hall, which allowed us to have five patient rooms, and we put up another retaining wall, which actually creates what they call an anteroom,” Cox said. “So, if you’re going into that room you go into the anteroom and you dress out into your PPEs (personal protection equipment) and then you move on to the next room.”

There is a “clean” room off the anteroom, which allows the nurse dedicated to that department –  and who stays in that department the entire shift – to change clothes and put on PPE, and then shower as needed. The nurse removes PPEs on the “dirty” side of the anteroom, and linens from the patient rooms are also kept separate and are placed in bags on that side, keeping the clean side disinfected.

Another change the hospital made was in ventilation.

“Our fan system that we have all the air to pull through goes to a HEPA filter before it is displaced outside,” Cox said. “Then at the physical plant we put in a fan that pulls the air out of the building to the outside and which will never come back in the building. So, when we put this fan in, we created negative pressure. If there’s any bacteria or virus that’s floating in the air it is pulled out.”

Community support

As for the topic of a resolution, any such item passed by the City Council in regard to patient procedures at the hospital would be non-binding and the city has no say at all in the operations of the hospital. Still, any suggestion that the hospital could lose the support of Red Bay officials runs counter to the longstanding tradition of the community supporting its hospital.

“We have always had great support from Red Bay’s mayors and the city council,” Jolley said. Whether it’s a fundraiser we’re having for this hospital or when we do our annual Dempsey Fundraiser, there are multiple members of the city council who personally support this hospital. The business leaders in this city support this hospital. We couldn’t function without any of them. I never have a conversation with any of (the Council members or mayor) that they don’t say, ‘is there anything that we can do for the hospital? We want to support our hospital.’”

Jolley said maintaining the community’s support is vital to the hospital’s operation and wanted to assure those seeking medical care – and their loved ones – that they would receive treatment in a safe environment and not be turned away.

“What saddens me about the whole situation is that possibly the loved ones of those patients saw things like, “we want them sent back to Helen Keller; we don’t want them in our community.’ That is not the position of this hospital and it never will be,” Jolley said. “As long as it says ‘hospital’ on the sign, we are going to care for this community.”