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Far Rockaway's St. John's Episcopal Hospital battles coronavirus

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For St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, the coronavirus outbreak is a matter of staff being prepared to care for patients, making sure the hospital has enough supplies, getting people  to one of its three outpatient facilities, including the one in Lawrence, and providing the community with information on the coronavirus.

“What we are doing, our task, is to take care of the sick patients with a higher level of care that we can provide because we are so specialized,” said Dr. Donald Morrish, St. John’s chief medical officer. “We are providing focused acute care for those who are COVID-19 positive.”

With testing increasing, the number of people who will contract this strain of the coronavirus will most likely peak in May, Morrish said, noting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 45-day window. “We are communicating with hospital CEOs on how to approach that and our preparedness, Morrish said.”

That begins with the hospital staff being ready and understanding their role to help soothe the community’s concern over the health crisis. “It is a crazy time, from the hospital’s perspective everyone working here is prepared not panicky, the community gets the time to be well taken care of as the staff exhibits calmness. With a community on edge they look to St. John’s to exude confidence and to be well-prepared.”

Concerning staff, Thomas Melillo, St. John’s director of marketing and strategic planning, said: “Staff is permitted to continue to treat patients while wearing masks and gloves unless they develop symptoms. If they do, they must self-quarantine.”

Renee Hastick-Motes, St. John’s vice president of external affairs, said that Cuomo’s constant communication is a boost to all. “The governor with his daily briefings has been very helpful,” she said. “As you know people get anxiety with not understanding. With the governor communicating, less of that takes place.” 

In the early going of confirmed coronavirus cases being reported, St. John’s treated an individual, its first case, and that person was discharged, Melillo said. “We have had successful outcomes,” Morrish said.

That has not come without challenges. Keeping supplies such as the needed protective equipment, facemasks and Purell, the hand sanitizer, well stocked is an issue, said Morrish even for frontline care providers like St. John’s.

Another challenge is having people understand who is eligible to be tested. Morrish said that there are two levels of criteria: A person with a fever who has a lower respiratory tract infection and known contact with a COVID-19 patient and a person with a fever, a respiratory tract infection and some communitywide exposure.

Quarantining also involves two groups. People who were just exposed can have normal contact, but not leave the house. Going outside in a backyard or on a terrace is OK, Morrish said. The other is being COVID positive. The person should wear a facemask and have limited contact with others.  

The hospital is following New York City Department of Health guidelines and not performing elective surgeries, Melillo said, patients for physical therapy, emergencies and everything else is “up and running.” St. John’s is abiding by the no visitors policy and is doing screenings of people at the main entrance, other entrances are closed, and the pharmacy is still filling prescriptions. 

“The hospital is well-prepared, following Centers for Disease Control and New York State DOH guidelines, and communicating with the community to get information to our community to address screening and treatment,” Morrish said.