By Morgan Brice
Overlake Medical Center
In late February, Overlake Medical Center & Clinics had its first COVID-19 positive patient—thrusting the healthcare organization into the epicenter of the first U.S. outbreak of the disease. While the Overlake team always prepares for emergencies, this pandemic proved unlike anything the hospital had ever experienced.
As with many hospitals throughout Washington state and the nation, when COVID-19 surfaced in the community, Overlake saw a significant drop in patients visiting the emergency room for serious conditions. But the public should not fear seeking emergency care because the hospital has taken extra steps to ensure patients and staff remain safe.
“I’m highly confident of our emergency team,” said Myles Parilla, RN, nurse manager of Overlake’s emergency department. “They are well trained in providing care to patients with infectious diseases, even outside of COVID-19. But we will all be better for what this pandemic has shown us.”
In April, Overlake’s emergency department volumes fell 50% compared to the same time last year. Typically, the emergency department, located on its campus in Bellevue, sees anywhere from 137–140 patients per day.
This information has come as a shock to many. If you turn on your TV to any news network, you have likely seen the images of New York City’s emergency departments and ICUs overflowing with patients seeking care for COVID-19. Washington has experienced challenges in the number of critical care beds available, along with shortages of personal protective equipment, ventilators and medication, but not once was our emergency department overflowing in the likes of what was shown in other parts of the country.
The consequence of this pandemic is widespread and will likely last for much longer than we all had hoped.
Overlake has seen a concerning drop in the number of patients with heart attack and stroke symptoms seeking care.
“We see a wide variety of cases in the emergency department, we really are the first line of defense in a lot of ways. However, we have seen a concerning decrease in the number of trauma and stroke cases overall,” Parilla explained. “The decrease in trauma cases is likely correlated to the reduced number of outdoor activities from the Governor’s order. We believe the fear of exposure is most likely the underlying cause of patients with stroke symptoms avoiding emergent care. And because of that, we are seeing a lot of critically ill patients now. As healthcare providers, this poses a concern because patients are not addressing their condition, and it can be very dangerous if not treated in a timely manner.”
Inpatient psychological services have also experienced a decrease. Although this pandemic is unique in volume and reach, infectious diseases are nothing new to frontline staff.
“Our specialists write policies that align with the CDC, and all of our clinical areas follow those policies, including the emergency department. We’ve made sure that despite the PPE shortages, our providers and nurses serving in isolation rooms and regular rooms have what they need,” said Parilla.
In the Overlake emergency department, the first interaction a patient will have is with an employee in the parking garage.
“We essentially have a screening station in the garage. Those employees are enclosed in a glass space where the patient can request help getting to the emergency room, whether it is by wheelchair or the more serious case of respiratory illness. If someone has COVID-19 symptoms, we have a different protocol for getting those patients roomed. They don’t go through our waiting rooms or other areas where they could come into contact with others,” Parilla explained.
Overlake has several screening stations strategically positioned around the hospital campus. Staff and patients are screened for COVID-19 symptoms and have their temperature checked. At this time, everyone wears a face mask while on the hospital campus for safety.
“The overall goal is to minimize the risk of exposures. The hospital has strict guidelines for visitors to make sure we can safely care for our patients,” said Parilla.
With the likelihood of a second wave predicted by clinical experts, area health care leaders are preparing now for what is to come.
“We have been through this now for long enough, we know what we are doing. We are here, equipped and ready to provide emergency services to our community. It is so important they know safety is not something we take lightly,” Parilla concluded.