Baptist testing every patient admitted to its hospitals

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 27, 2020 5:36 PM CT | Published: April 27, 2020 4:36 PM CT

Every patient admitted to a hospital run by Baptist Memorial Health Care, as of Monday, was being tested for COVID-19 as the system comes to terms with what medicine will be in the coronavirus era, including elective surgery.

“I think it is going to be in the community for a long time,” said Dr. John Craig, a member of the vascular surgery team at Baptist. “The initial idea of waiting it out and reopening things up after a couple of months of hunkering down, I don’t think that is going to work. We have to find a way to work with and around this pandemic. We need to safely do that. And we have people who need operations.”

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All patients entering Baptist — including through emergency rooms and out-patient services — will receive the nasal swab test.

Baptist is the only local hospital testing all incoming patients.

For a second layer of safety, particularly against false positives, every patient will also receive a questionnaire, addressing whether they have been exposed to anyone who was COVID positive, whether they traveled to a high-risk area and whether they have had flu-like symptoms, including cough, fever and shortness of breath.

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They will also be asked if they have been tested before and what the results were.

“Based on that questionnaire, it may put them in a high-risk category, and they will go into isolation even if we are waiting for the test to come back,” Craig said.

Baptist can get in-house results back in 45 minutes.

While Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and the Shelby County Task Force have said elective surgeries are part of the phased-in reopening of the economy that will happen when the number of people hospitalized is stable or declining for 14 days (Shelby County was at Day 10 before the weekend spike), Baptist will be doing more surgeries this week, partly because what was elective March 19 when the elective surgery ban went into place now may be more critical.

To do more surgery and to keep its employees and other patients safe, Baptist says it needs to know the COVID status of every patient in its hospitals.

“Yes, I do expect more elective surgeries will begin this week,” Craig said. “I don’t think it’s going to be like a big policy change from one day to the next. I just think you are going to see a slow, graduated sort of change in how surgeries are done.

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“As we start to bring people into the hospital a little bit more, we have to take every precaution, every safeguard to make sure that we are providing the safest environment as possible for them,” he said.

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Starting Tuesday, Methodist Le Bonheur will start testing asymptomatic employees “to ensure we provide a safe environment for care and are following evidence-based best practices,” Methodist said in a statement late Monday.

“We will continue to screen everyone who enters an MLH facility, and we will continue to test those who screen positive, based on current CDC guidelines.”

Regional One Health for now is testing patients who have symptoms.

“We are looking into the feasibility of expanding testing and trying to work out the logistics involved in such an endeavor,” said Dr. Martin Croce, chief medical officer.

Saint Francis tests patients that meet CDC guidelines for testing and are scheduled for procedures that require general anesthesia. 

“Elective surgery doesn’t mean a thing you can put off indefinitely,” said Dr. David Mirvis, senior research fellow at the University of Memphis and professor emeritus at University of Tennessee Health Science Center. “You can delay them, but there is a risk in delaying. A lot of elective things can be painful or risky to delay.”

The idea of testing everyone is a reasonable way to start, he said.

“I can see the need to start doing elective surgery on a case-by-case basis, and testing everyone is a way to make that safe and the workers in the hospital safer.”

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Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. Dr. John Craig Dr. David Mirvis
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers business news and features for The Daily Memphian.


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