An inside look at COVID-19 treatment at Bethesda Hospital

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Bethesda Hospital is now the first short-term acute care hospital in the state to exclusively treat patients with COVID-19. It’s a stark difference from a few months ago when Fairview Health Services cut beds at the facility from 90 to about 50.

Now, they’ve increased capacity again to 35 intensive care unit beds and 55 medical-surgical beds.

Over the last nine days, the 44 patients at the long-term acute care facility have been relocated. Construction workers, engineers, infection prevention experts and others have worked around the clock to equip the hospital to treat patients with COVID-19.

“Every part of the hospital has had to go through some transformation,” said Kristi Ball, vice president of operations.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS went on a tour of the facility before the first patients arrived on Thursday.

The outpatient clinic on the bottom level has been retrofitted to receive patients who are transported to the hospital from other M Health Fairview facilities.

Also on that level, a gym has been transformed into a radiology room. The room was an interventional radiology suite until 1989 so it already had lead walls, according to Ball.

The radiology, ultrasound and X-ray rooms will now operate 24/7.

“We have experts watching the infection control, CDC guidelines, we have people in facilities that are watching what we need from a facilities standpoint,” said Ball.

Full COVID-19 Coverage

There are in-house intensive care unit doctors, researchers, hospitalists, nurses, anesthetists and others working to treat the patients, according to Dr. Brian Amdahl, the vice president of medical affairs.

Patients that will be treated at Bethesda Hospital have already tested positive for the disease. Dr. Amdahl said having COVID-19 patients together in one building will be beneficial.

“We can learn from them and say, ‘What should we do? What could we do different?’ And really advance the care really quickly,” he said.

Each ICU bed in Bethesda Hospital has been equipped with a ventilator.

“We’ve been very meticulous to bring in experts to say what would an ICU room need,” said Maria Raines, the chief nursing officer.

There are now 35 negative pressure rooms in the hospital, most of which were added during the transformation. The technology directs air from patient rooms outside instead of into the hallway.

M Health Fairview said it’s a precaution to minimize the risk to doctors and nurses.

Staff members are also required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including a face shield, mask, gloves and gown. They are also directed to wash their hands at least seven times during the process of putting the equipment on, taking it off and treating the patient.

Both the PPE and negative pressure rooms are recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We continue to have all of those experts helping us and as changes may potentially come about, we will be able to adapt as appropriate,” said Ball.

They hope patients will also be able to participate in National Institute of Health clinical trials.

“Remdesivir is the one trial and I know the original approval was for the University but we’ve asked that be extended here,” said Dr. Amdahl.

Patients will not be able to receive visitors while they’re at the hospital unless they are in end-of-life care. In those cases, Raines said patients will be able to have someone sit with them.

She said they will work to keep all families and patients connected.

“We can do certain things on the phone, talking to families where normally we would be meeting face-to-face,” said Raines.

They don’t expect to fill all of the beds immediately.

“I think most of us think that this is probably a three or four-month expedition into this world,” said Dr. Amdahl. “I think if we become an efficient COVID hospital, we’ll be able to unwind the load on our other hospitals very quickly, hopefully to let them return to normal business sooner so we can keep caring for the COVID patients here.”

But, they said they’re still prepared for a surge.

“We do have a plan and so that’s why we were asked to stand up to 90 beds,” said Ball. “Should we fill those 90 beds our system is ready for that next step.”

*This story has been updated from its original version. M Health Fairview released a correction to its original press release, which stated there were 53 negative pressure rooms. There are only 35.*