Behind the scenes look at how Huntsville Hospital is treating the sickest COVID-19 patients

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – This week for the first time 1,000 hospitalizations were reported state wide.

Here in North Alabama health care workers at Huntsville Hospital fight the COVID-19 battle head-on every single day.

WHNT News 19 got an inside look at Medical Intensive Care Unit to see how they have adjusted to treat COVID-19 patients and what the staff who know the virus the best want the public to know about slowing the spread.

The first step they have taken is asking nurses to work more hours.

“Typical nurses work 12-hour shifts and they might work 3 to 4 days a week. Right now we are asking them to pick up extra shifts and we are offering them additional compensation to make that happen,” said Huntsville Hospital COO Jeff Samz.

Up on the 4th floor teams of staff treat the sickest patients.

Regina Wilder is the MICU Unit Director at Huntsville Hospital and she said “The MICU is split into two sides this our 16-bed side. The patients over here are all under the care of our intensivist. What you see right there are our intensivist and our resident making rounds. Every morning they do grand rounds on the patients there is also respiratory and dietary, the bedside nurse is involved, it’s truly multidisciplinary.”

The people behind the scenes at Huntsville Hospital began planning a COVID response in December when the coronavirus first appeared in China. Today they are adjusting and adapting to what they learn.

“You’ll notice as you go through the unit, some of the patients have the IV pole out in the hallway. That is something that we saw, probably on social media the first time, that they were doing it up North. It keeps the nurse from having to change out every time it beeps and it also allows you faster access because it takes a minute to put on your full PPE,” says Wilder.

Every single time an employee enters a COVID patient’s room they have to change into fresh PPE. And when they leave they have to take it off.

“If I think about the nurses going in there what? 15-20 times” said Dr. Prithvi Kukkadapu, MD. A Director of Critical Care at Huntsville Hospital.

“At least, we go through probably about 200 gowns a shift,” said Wilder.

Each room on the MICU floor is negative pressure meaning the air in the room is filtered and then exhausted to the outside.

“One thing we have done differently with COVID, once the patient is discharged from the room it is allowed to sit for two hours, air exchange to occur. Any droplets in the air to drop out before environmental services comes in to clean. And it slows down bed flow a little bit and you want to get people out as fast as possible but you want to be safe,” said Wilder

Doctors who take care of the sickest COVID patients daily say the virus can’t be compared to other viruses.

“The way it spreads and the way your immune system responds to it, you get much sicker than the example you mentioned like mono,” said Kukkadapu.

And the recovery can last weeks if not months.

“You know patients have heart failure, respiratory failure, kidney failure your immune system is overwhelmed you are prone to many bacterial infections. So we are talking about recovering from an illness that takes almost one to two months. People are more prone to blood clots. So, even if I get you out of the hospital in one to two months, I am talking about 1 to 2 months of rehabilitation,” explained Kukkadapu.

As the staff at Huntsville Hospital continues to do their job every day, they hope the public will do theirs part to slow the spread.

“The severity of illness I see here is very bad and I want people to understand that we have very simple measures to defeat this. Practice physical distancing, use a mask in public space, and always wash your hands. These simple measures can decrease the spread by 85 percent or so,” said Kukkadapu.

Even with the high number of hospital beds used for COVID patients in the past few weeks, Huntsville Hospital COO Jeff Samz said his team is still confident that the healthcare system can stay in front of this pandemic.

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