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Mayor: Louisville hospitals in good shape but continued vigilance urged

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Mayor Greg Fischer and leaders of Louisville’s three major healthcare systems on Tuesday offered a cautiously upbeat assessment of the situation at our major hospitals as the battle continues against the COVID-19 outbreak.

Although health experts and public officials believe the virus has hit a rolling plateau in Louisville and the rest of Kentucky, the pandemic is far from over and new deaths are still being reported every day in the state.

Nonetheless, the Mayor said the city’s worst fear about COVID-19 – that an out-of-control surge in extremely sick patients would overwhelm an unprepared healthcare system – hasn’t so far come to pass, as thousands of Louisvillians heeded the call to stay home and non-essential businesses along with schools and churches closed their doors.

“We have not seen the overwhelming type of situation that they saw in Seattle, New Orleans, Detroit, New York, and Italy,” Fischer said. “One of the major challenges was to develop a citywide strategy, to make sure our healthcare system wasn’t overwhelmed.”

During a tele-town hall this morning on Facebook Live, the mayor got a status report from the chief medical officers at Baptist Health, Norton Healthcare, and University of Louisville Health about how their facilities are managing the crisis.

“Please come in. We are here for you. All three healthcare systems in town are here for you.”
– Dr. Smith of University of Louisville Health.

The intense and unprecedented effort to ensure that there would be enough bed space, supplies, and staffing when the pandemic began to hit Louisville in early March seems to have paid off, said Dr. Jason Smith, chief medical officer at University of Louisville Health.

“It’s a much better environment (now),” Smith said. “We’re doing really well across the entire UofL Health system. Our staff has just been phenomenal.”

That assessment was echoed by Dr. Steve Hester, chief medical officer at Norton Healthcare; and Dr. Kenneth Anderson, chief medical officer at Baptist Health.

“We are doing really well with bed space,” Hester said. “We have received great community support.”

Although concerns about the supply of personal protective equipment like masks, gowns, and other gear for medical workers have also eased somewhat, prices have skyrocketed and hospitals must still constantly search for new sources.

“The supply chain is starting to loosen up, but it’s still challenging,” said Hester, who expressed gratitude for donations of PPE from the community. “We’re going to continue to watch it closely.”

But as the crisis begins to calm somewhat, a new healthcare problem has emerged – patients with genuine medical needs avoiding hospitals due to fears about COVID-19.

“We are hearing stories of people suffering from serious medical conditions, perhaps life-threatening conditions, but they’ve been avoiding getting medical care,” Fischer noted. “We want to make sure we’re not suffering and dying from one condition because of another.”

That is a real concern for the medical community, said Dr. Anderson of Norton Healthcare.

“Probably about two to three weeks ago, we were, like ‘Where are these patients we see pretty routinely?’” Dr. Anderson said.

All three healthcare officials urged the public to continue coming to the hospital if they feel like their health is in danger.

“People are waiting because they were worried,” said Dr. Smith of UofL Health. “Please come in. We are here for you. All three healthcare systems in town are here for you.”

Now that Gov. Andy Beshear has allowed non-emergency healthcare facilities to begin reopening around the state, it is hoped that people will resume seeing their doctors and other medical providers to address chronic conditions that they may have been ignoring during the COVID-19 quarantine.

“Early on, we were seeing people waiting because they were worried. It’s important to get them back into the (doctor’s) office to manage their chronic conditions,” Smith said.

At Louisville’s hospitals, extra precautions are in place that will likely be the “new normal” for a while.

“We’re screening everybody that comes in,” North’s Anderson said. “If you come in without your mask, we’re masking you when you get here.”

Additionally, local hospitals are still limiting visitors and keeping COVID-19 patients separated from the rest of the facility. The intensive, coordinated response to the pandemic has put Louisville’s hospitals on extremely strong footing, Dr. Anderson noted.

“Hospitals have always been safe. But this is probably the safest time at all three (hospital systems) right now,” he said.

To watch a replay of today’s tele town hall, go to www.Facebook.com/MayorGregFischer.

As of Tuesday, there have been 70 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Louisville, bringing the total to 1,189, with 565 recoveries. There has been one additional death since Monday, bringing the Louisville total to 84.